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How do parenting styles differ from one another, and which are most effective? You’ll follow expectant parents, Mary and Larry, as they walk their neighborhood and try to learn from other parents.

Parenting Styles — Introduction

Mary is pregnant and soon to give birth to a son, whom she and her husband Larry intend to call Chris.

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She’s been reading a lot of parenting books and is trying to figure out the best style to use when raising Chris. The books are helpful, but she feels like she doesn’t have a good sense of how all of the styles really work in action. So she and Larry decide to go around to some of their friends with kids and try to figure out which parenting styles they best embody. They’re on the lookout for the interplay between responsiveness and demandingness, which are the traits used to determine style.


First they head next door, where their neighbors are raising a daughter, Emily, who’s six. Mary asks them what a typical day is like for Emily. ‘Well,’ says Emily’s mom.

‘On a typical school day, I’ll pick Emily up after kindergarten and drive her to dance. That takes an hour. If it’s Tuesday afterward we go to violin, and on Thursday we go to piano.

Then we come home, have dinner, and Emily works on her math. She’s three grade levels ahead!’ Mary shoots Larry a look. She starts to speak, but Larry, always more blunt, interrupts her: ‘Does this kid have time for friends?’ Emily’s mother frowns.

‘We send her to school to get socialized. Sometimes she’ll ask to go on play dates, but she’s really too busy with activities to go.’Mary and Larry thank her for her time and quickly leave the house.

They suspect Emily is being raised by authoritarian parents, who are highly demanding but not very responsive to Emily’s own wants and needs. They expect her to perform highly in school and in music but ignore her requests to play with kids her own age outside of school time. Mary and Larry can’t really see themselves parenting this way.


They continue down the block until they come to a house where they know another child lives, a little boy named Mikey.

They find Mikey outside in a cluttered, toy-filled yard, chasing around a feral-looking cat. He’s wearing a pair of shorts on her head as a hat. Mikey’s parents come outside and say hi. ‘So; you let him do whatever he wants?’ Mary asks tentatively.

‘Oh yes,’ says Mikey’s mother. ‘We just let him follow his bliss.’ ‘He begged and begged for us to let him wear those shorts on his head,’ Mikey’s father chimes in. ‘His little face just lit up when we said yes.

‘ ‘Does he do much in the way of schoolwork?’ Larry asks. Mikey’s mother shrugs, ‘He does what he wants. Neither of us were rocket scientists, and we turned out all right.

‘Mary and Larry excuse themselves. Mikey’s parents are definitely permissive, meaning that they are very responsive to Mikey’s wishes and desires but not at all demanding of him. Mikey’s wants to dress weirdly and play in the yard unsupervised, and so they let him–even though he is only six years old, and doesn’t have the best sense of safety or long-term goals. He doesn’t think it’s fun to do homework, so he doesn’t do any, but this could have consequences for him down the road.


Mary and Larry get to the end of the block, where little Annie is outside chewing on a stick. She’s only wearing a t-shirt and is shivering a little.

Mary and Larry knock on her door, looking for her parents, but they can’t find them anywhere. They get worried; Annie’s parents are definitely neglectful. They’re not around; therefore they’re not demanding of their child or responsive to her needs. They end up calling Annie’s grandmother, who comes to collect her; later, they find out she’s moved in with her grandma permanently.


After seeing authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful parenting styles in action, Mary and Larry decide that they’ll try to be authoritative parents. Unlike authoritarian parents, authoritative parents are a healthy mix of demanding and responsive.

They’ll make sure Chris does his homework but also let him play with his friends or maybe even wear shorts on his head; they’ll try to help Chris get what he wants and needs while keeping track of the kinds of long-term goals children have trouble thinking about. Their decision is supported by studies done of parenting styles in the United States. Children of authoritative parents tend to have higher self-esteem, happiness, motivation and discipline than parents who use other styles. These children also tend to be more successful in life.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson you’ll be able to:

  • Define authoritarian, permissive and neglectful parenting styles
  • Understand some of the drawbacks of an authoritarian style
  • Describe key components of a permissive parenting style
  • List factors that make up an authoritarian parenting style
  • Analyze why a neglectful parenting style is ineffective

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