Monday, December 23, 2013

Baumrind's Authoritative Parenting

I have shared the The differences between Conditional mand Unconditional Parenting  . What about Authoritative parenting.? Authoritative Parenting features in Baumrind schema of Parenting styles – Authoritarian , Permissive and in the middle Authoritative parenting style. The parenting author Myrna Shure whose books focus on problem solving said to me that her approach does not fit into any of the categories described by the Baumrind schema. It is clear that authoritative parenting= conditional parenting.

Dr Ross Greene was asked why he did not elaborate on Plan A techniques = helping parents impose their will in a more effective way. He replied that helping parents to make their kids more compliant will get in the way of parents becoming better collaborative problem solvers. When combining approaches kids get 2 different messages and it is confusing. When the going is tough parents tend to fall back on their old ways, because it is easier to punish, give consequences and rewards than to solve problems in a collaborative way

'Authoritative Parenting -is defined as  high in control and warmth; mature demands of and responsiveness to children; allows lots of discussion and considers children's opinions before making final decision; have set rules and guidelines; use rationale and logic when disciplining. 

This sounds good but the reality is that when parents are highly controlling using rewards and punishments, the warmth and empathy becomes rather perfunctory and conditional and kids concerns are not taken seriously. Rules and guidelines are not formulated together with kids but in a unilateral way and discussions are usually about the logic of the 'imposed ' punishments and consequences.

The proof is in Diana Baumrind on writing on parenting. It leans heavily on control through extrinsic motivation and warmth and love is conditional. In his book Unconditional Parenting  and in the articleRethinking Baumrind's autoritative parenting  Alfie Kohn writes the following.

 She describes parenting as being "authoritarian" on one side, "permissive" on the other side, or "authoritative" (read: just right) in the middle. In reality, though, her favored approach, supposedly a blend of firmness and caring, is actually quite traditional and control-oriented -even if less so than Option 1. In fact, a close reading of Baumrind's research raises questions about the recommendations she offers, particularly her endorsement of "firm control."To begin with, Baumrind (1972) has argued against unconditional acceptance of children by their parents, declaring that "the rule of reciprocity, of paying for value received, is a law of life that applies to us all." She continues: "The parent who expresses love unconditionally is encouraging the child to be selfish and demanding" - suggesting that an economic model for human relationships may go hand-in-hand with a dim view of human nature. She also assumes that "structure" in the family requires the use of extrinsic motivators and "contingent reinforcement," which she strongly supports. She approves of spanking, dismisses criticisms of punishment as "utopian," and declares that parents who don't use power to compel obedience will be seen as "indecisive" (Baumrind 1996)
Unfortunately, the research she cites to show that authoritative parenting works best doesn't support any of these positions. Her original findings were interpreted as proving that a combination of warmth and "firm control" (or "enforcement") was optimal. But another researcher who looked at the data carefully (Lewis 1981) discovered that the positive outcomes for children of authoritative parents didn't actually seem to be connected to the use of firm enforcement at all. Kids whose parents were warm but not controlling did just as well as kids whose parents were both - probably, she suggested, because control in the traditional sense isn't required to create structure and predictability as Baumrind (and many others) assumed. By the same token, Baumrind seemed to blur the differences between "permissive" parents who were really just confused and those who were deliberately democratic. There were no problems with the children of the latter parents, suggesting, in the words of another psychologist, that "a close look at Baumrind's actual data may reveal significant support for child-centered parenting" (Crain 2003) even though Baumrind has created a very different impression because she personally opposes that style. Subsequent research using Baumrind's formulation seems to support this view. A huge study of teenagers (Lamborn et al. 1991) did indeed find benefits from what was described as "authoritative" parenting, but that term was defined to mean that parents were aware of, and involved with, their children's lives, not that they were even the least bit punitive or controlling. Another study (Strage and Brandt) similarly cited Baumrind by way of suggesting that parents need to be both supportive and demanding, but it turned out that being demanding when their children were young was unrelated, or even negatively related, to various desirable outcomes. By contrast, the extent to which the parents had been supportive, and also the extent to which they had encouraged their children's independence, had a strong positive relationship to those same outcomes.


  1. I've commented on this subject extensively over at the daastorah blog, and I'll just add some commentary here:

    I believe that the blog auther's worldview flows from a specific understanding of what "autonomy" means. He seems to hew closely to what Buchanan in Am J Public Health. 2008 January; 98(1): 15–21 (view at: writes:

    "Most Americans view autonomy as synonymous with liberty, consciously or unconsciously reflecting the views of John Stuart Mill’s influential work On Liberty, in which liberty is construed as negative freedom, freedom from restraint, to do whatever one wants as long as it does not harm others".

    Buchanan continues with an alternative explanation:

    "By contrast, the definition of autonomy ... following Kant, is based on the integration of freedom and responsibility. Autonomous agents can adopt moral constraints, willingly submitting to norms to which they have given their consent.

    Autonomy ... is equated with positive freedom, self-mastery, with being in charge of oneself. One can be restricted (e.g., celibate) yet still be autonomous. The critical point is being in the position of deciding, not being decided for, being able to choose to accept reasonable constraints on one’s behaviors. As defined by Dworkin, autonomy is thus the capacity of a person to critically reflect upon and then attempt to accept or change one’s desires, values, and ideals."

    He (and his mentor Alfie Kohn) misunderstand Baumrind's work, based on their conceptualization of any restrain where one isn't allowed to do whatever one wants even in cases that others aren't harmed - as limiting liberty & therefore limiting autonomy. Therefore they view this restrain as a deprivation of love & an expression of control.

    In my opinion, this view is clearly anti-religion .I think it’s also anti common-sense.

    I think the other view on autonomy more closely corresponds to the religious view.As Buchanan explains Dworkin “autonomy is thus the capacity of a person to critically reflect upon and then attempt to accept or change one’s desires, values, and ideals”.

    That’s why self-disciple is viewed so positively by almost all important researchers in the field.

  2. Quoting Alfie Kohn as an authority, both in regards to his belief that rewards are destructive to motivation & that too much self-control may be associated with anxiety, compulsiveness, and dampened emotional responses- only make things worse,.

    Here’s what Daniel Willingham (professor of psychology at the University of Virginia) writes about Alfie Kohn, at

    Kohn consistently makes factual errors, oversimplifies the literature that he seeks to explain, and commits logical fallacies.
    In his book, Punished by Rewards, Kohn claims … that praise and rewards for good behavior are destructive to motivation. The truth is actually somewhat more complicated. Rewards can reduce motivation, but only when motivation was somewhat high to start with. If the student is unmotivated to perform some task, rewarding him will not hurt his motivation. Praise can be controlling and exact a psychological cost, but its effect on the recipient depends on how it’s construed: does the child think you are offering sincere appreciation for a job well done, or sending the message that future behavior had better be in line with expectations? There is important psychological work showing that the role of praise and reward is complex. Carol Dweck is a leader in this field and her book, Mindset, provides a good overview.
    In a recent piece in the Phi Delta Kappan, Kohn argues that self-discipline has been over-sold, and indeed, that it has a dark side—too much self-control may be associated with anxiety, compulsiveness, and dampened emotional responses. … But Kohn proceeds from a definition of “self-control” that differs from that used by these researchers (Roy Baumeister, Angela Duckworth, Walter Mischel, and Marty Seligman), and indeed, by virtually all of the important researchers in the field. They define self-control as the ability to marshal your cognitive and emotional resources to help you attain goals that you consider important. Kohn defines self-control as using willpower to accomplish things that are generally regarded as desirable. Thus by Kohn’s definition, a child shows self-discipline when she determinedly (and miserably) slogs towards a goal that she does not value, but that her parents (or others) deem important. Researchers use the former definition when they claim that they find no disadvantages to self-control, and that they observe positive associations with achievement, social adjustment, mental health. Kohn’s point—that authoritarian control leads to negative outcomes—is not very startling and is shared more or less universally by researchers.