Why do kids from authoritative families turn out so well?

Excerpted from “The Authoritative Parenting Style: Warmth, Rationality, and High Standards” by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.

The authoritative parenting style is about setting limits, reasoning with kids, and being responsive to their emotional needs.

Each component of the authoritative parenting style seems to have its own benefits.

As noted above, inductive discipline—explaining the reasons for rules—has been linked with more advanced moral reasoning skills (Krevans and Gibb 1996; Kerr et al 2004).

In addition, research suggests the following points.

1. Warm, responsive parenting promotes secure attachments and protects kids from developing internalizing problems.

2. Parents who enforce limits are less likely to have kids engaged in drug and alcohol use, juvenile delinquency, or other antisocial behavior
(e.g., Lamborn et al 1991; Steinberg et al 1992; Querido et al 2002).

3. Talking with kids about thoughts and feelings may strengthen attachment relationships and make kids into better “mind readers.”

4. Parents who avoid reprimanding kids for academic mistakes (e.g., “I’m disappointed in you”) may have kids who are more resilient problem-solvers and better learners
(Kamins and Dweck 1999; Schmittmann et al 2006; van Duijvenvoorde et al 2008).

5. Encouraging independence in kids is linked with more self-reliance, better problem solving, and improved emotional health
(e.g., Turkel and Tezer 2008; Rothrauff et al 2009; Lamborn et al 1991; Pratt et al 1988; Kamins and Dweck 1999).

6. Encouraging independence and showing warmth are also linked with more helpful, kind, and popular kids.

The last point is illustrated by research conducted in the Netherlands. In this study, school kids were observed at home as they worked with their parents on a couple of puzzle tasks.

Then researchers
• recorded how often parents uttered their disapproval or tried to take over the task,
• rated how often parents showed warmth, made suggestions, used induction “(What would happen if we tried this?”), or demanded mature behavior from their kids, and
• asked teachers and peers to rate each child’s social behavior.

The results are compelling. Parents who behaved more authoritatively during the puzzle task had kids who were rated as more prosocial—helpful and kind—by their teachers and peers. The kids with authoritative parents were also more popular (Dekovic and Janssens 1992).

There is even evidence that kids from authoritative homes are more attuned with their parents and less influenced by their peers.

In a study of American students, undergraduates were presented with a series of moral problems and asked how they would solve them. Students from authoritative families were more likely than others to say that their parents--not their peers--would influence their decisions (Bednar and Fisher 2003). But there are other factors, too.

It’s likely that the benefits of authoritative parenting are maximized when the whole community is organized along authoritative principles. For instance, when the school climate is authoritative, kids from authoritative families may find it easier to fit in (Pellerin 2004).

In addition, some studies have reported ethnic differences--that for African-American and Chinese-Americans, there is little or no difference in academic performance between kids from authoritarian and authoritative homes. Why? Researchers have posed several different explanations, which you can read about in this article that contrasts the effects of authoritarian parenting with the effects of authoritative parenting.

Nevertheless, there is remarkable agreement across studies. From Argentina to China, from the United States to Pakistan, the authoritative parenting style is consistently associated with superior outcomes, and it has never been linked with bad outcomes (see review in Steinberg 2001). As researcher Laurence Steinberg has stated, “I know of no study that indicates that adolescents fare better when they are reared with some other parenting style” (Steinberg 2001). As of March, 2010, this is still seems to be the case.