Authoritarian Parenting Style

From UBC Wiki


According to Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, the authoritarian parenting style is characterized by shaping, controlling, and evaluating children’s behavior and attitudes according to a set of standards of conduct. Parents are highly involved in children's lives, but rarely show responsiveness and warmth. The unquestionable rules are formulated by the parents, and the children have no power to change them. Conformity is highly valued and disobedience of parent’s commands usually results in punitive discipline[1]. Authoritarian parents do not discipline children with reasoning and flexibility. Children are taught to follow authorities without discussion, even if it conflicts with the children’s beliefs[2]. Parenting style has huge influence on children's development. The following sections will focus on exploring children's psychological development and well-being.

Psychological development

Parenting styles have essential influence on children’s psychological and intellectual development. For example, there has been a lot of research that investigates the influence of parenting style on the cognitive development of children, such as the development of theory of mind. Theory of mind is the cognitive achievement of children that emerges around the age of 3 years, enabling them to understand others' feelings, reasoning, and beliefs.[3] Children with authoritarian parents, who expect children to obey authorities and discourage discussion, were less advanced in developing the understanding and awareness of other’s desires and hidden emotions than children whose parents are more likely to facilitate discussion with them. This result might be due to the environment in which children only have a few opportunities to talk about different opinions and learn about other people's mental states.[2]

A child’s poor understanding of other people’s mental states would not only delay their cognitive development, but it could also result in poor social understanding and social adjustment, as well as behavioural problems. Moreover, when conversation with parents about diverse opinion or mental state language is limited, children's language development would also be delayed.[2]

Psychological Vulnerability

Authoritarian parenting style has been found as one of the predictors of children’s psychological vulnerability, such as anxiety, depression, and delinquent behavior. Parents play a significant role in children’s development of personality and overall adjustment, especially the mother. Research shows maternal parenting style is considered one of the most crucial factors in children’s behavior outcomes and adjustment. Negative maternal parenting is associated with children’s shame proneness, detachment, external behavior, psychological vulnerability, and poor psychological adjustment.[4]

The Authoritarian parenting style is also associated with low self-esteem and high rates of anxiety, phobia, and depression disorders in children. Because of the lack of freedom to make their own choices, the children tend to develop feelings of weakness and inadequacy. They are afraid of punishment and parents’ disapproval, and tend to have a negative attitude towards their parents.[4] With the authoritarian parenting style, the family lacks balance because the parents become the stressors rather than the supporters of the children.[5] Maternal authoritarian attitudes also predicted the development of conduct problems in young children, including stealing and speech difficulties.[6]

Career unreadiness, indecision and myth are associated with student’s high anxiety levels during their university years, which could be a result of the negative effects of the authoritarian parenting style. Lack of exploration and development because of behavioral inhibition could result in career unreadiness; children’s behavioral inhibition might be due to the environment of high parental control and low level of communication. Thus, authoritarian parenting style could both directly and indirectly influence children’s anxiety level.[7]Children with parents who follow an authoritarian parenting style may lack the social skills that are needed in order to develop relationships as well as personal decision making. This not only affects the child emotionally but also hinders there mental stability and could lead to problems such as anxiety. [8]

The psychological vulnerabilities could have long-term negative consequences in adolescence, such as developing depressive symptoms. The outcomes might be associated with the restricted environment in which children cannot express their emotions and demands, as well as the fact that they are not given any explanations for their parents’ commands, which would enhance emotional difficulties in the children’s behaviour and personality.[4]

Emotionality and Coping Strategy

Emotionality is how easily emotions are aroused and how intense they are.[9] Children who have high negative emotionality are easily and intensely aroused; they need more effort and develop more effective coping strategies to regulate or manage emotions.[10]

Coping is defined as regulating emotions by means of “modulation of thought, affect, behavior, or attention via deliberate or automated use of specific mechanisms and supportive metaskills.”[11] It includes control on attention, emotion, and ego. Coping strategy is assertion to children’s self-regulation, especially in a social setting. Interactions with peers usually lead to high emotion arousal, and children’s coping skills would help managing the interpersonal exchanges. Thus children with emotional regulation problems usually show social and behavioral problems as well.[10]

Coping Strategy and Behavioral Problem

Negative emotionality predicts children’s external behavioral problems, such as physical and verbal aggression. However, children may become too aroused to engage effective coping strategies and this can lead to inappropriate behaviors due to overwhelming emotions. Thus, whether the emotionality leads to the aggressive behavior depends on how the children can control their emotions.[10]

Research shows authoritarian parenting has a damaging effect on children’s coping strategies, which suggests that it is also relevant to children’s aggressive behavior. The more authoritarian the mother, the more likely their children were to adopt negative coping strategies, such as venting or physical and verbal retribution in social interactions. Children’s negative coping strategies are also correlated to children’s negative emotionality, which both contribute to their aggressive behavior at school. Children who display aggressive behavior, as a result, may gain social disapproval from both their teachers and peers.[10]

Children’s negative coping strategies from the authoritarian parenting style could be a social learning process. Authoritarian parents discipline the children with coercion and physical punishment, and usually express anger frequently. Children learn to use the same punishment on peers when there is a conflict; they learn that physical aggression is the way to solve problems from their parents. Parents' negative emotionality increases children’s negative emotionality. Thus, it is more difficult for children to focus their attention on parents’ teaching and regulating their emotions. Moreover, children who always experience negative emotions may have difficulty developing higher order cognitive processes, such as planning and problem-solving skills. Parental guidance is important for children with high negative emotionality to help them develop constructive ways of coping with their emotions.[10]

Mixed Research Findings on Children's Developmental Outcomes

Although most research showed the negative influence of authoritarian parenting style on children's psychological development, there are also research findings that show the opposite.

Research conducted with Chinese subjects show that harsh and demanding parenting styles may led to children’s hopelessness, low self-esteem, and psychiatric morbidity. On the other hand, some research supports the idea that non-Western societies consider authoritarian parents to have a positive influence both on children’s academic performance as well as the socialization process. For example, research on Malay adolescents shows that authoritarian maternal parenting style was beneficial to children’s social adjustment. Furthermore, surprisingly, one study done by Ang (2006) suggested that authoritative parenting style, which is characterized as discipline the children with warmth, reason and flexibility, may negatively influence adolescents by hindering the development of their autonomy[1].

Debate on Authoritarian Parenting Styles

In 2011, Amy Chua, a Professor of Law at Yale Law School, published a book called "Battle hymn of the tiger mother" and showed her extreme parenting methods and standards applied to her daughter's grades and music lessons. Her book makes the term "tiger mom" familiar to parents in North America.[12] Amy believes that a strict parenting style is the best for children's outcome and Western cultural practices in parenting, which are characterized by warmth and reasoning, are not effective. For example, she doesn't allow her daughter to go on play dates, or get any grades less than A. She believes that the high pressure for achievement is important for children to be outstanding and successful in the future, which some mothers in the Western culture disagree with. The mothers who believe in the "Western" approach value the development of children's self-esteem more than their academic achievement.[13] They think Amy's parenting style is perceived as lack of warmth and acceptance.[12]

The following video further discussed the debate:

Chinese Parents on University Entrance Exam "Gao Kao"

Ever since 1977 the national entrance exam has been held as the fairest way for students to gain admittance to top tier Chinese Universities such as Peking University and Tsing Hua University. [14] During the months leading up to the Gao Kao the parents of the over 9 Million students feel the pressure and feel as if they must push their children to the absolute limit in order for them to succeed in the exam in order to secure a spot at one of Chinas most prestigious universities.

Ever since the exam was established parents have been pushing their children to do whatever they can in order to achieve a high score. This goes to the extreme of making their children revise with oxygen mask on as well as having ivy drips inserted in order to give them an extra boost of energy. [15]

Chinese Parents waiting for the children after the Gao Kao examination


  1. 1.0 1.1 Uji, M., Sakamoto, A., Adachi, K., & Kitamura, T. (2014). The impact of authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting styles on children's later mental health in japan: Focusing on parent and child gender. Journal of Child and Family Studies,23(2), 293. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9740-3
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 O'Reilly, J., & Peterson, C. C. (2014). Theory of mind at home: Linking authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles to children's social understanding. Early Child Development and Care, 184(12), 1934-1947. doi:10.1080/03004430.2014.894034
  3. Yoshida, W., Dolan, R. J., & Friston, K. J. (2008). Game theory of mind. PLoS Computational Biology, 4(12), e1000254. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000254
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Sadiq, U., & Khatoon, A. (2012). does maternal parenting effects the psychological well being of adolescents? Pakistan Journal of Psychology, 43(1)
  5. Dwairy, M. (2004). Parenting styles and mental health of arab gifted adolescents. Gifted Child Quarterly, 48(4), 275-286. doi:10.1177/001698620404800403
  6. Thompson, A., Hollis, C., & Richards†, D. (2003). Authoritarian parenting attitudes as a risk for conduct problems: Results from a british national cohort study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 12(2), 84-91. doi:10.1007/s00787-003-0324-4
  7. Cheung, C., Wu, J., & Cheung, H. Y. (2014). Career unreadiness in relation to anxiety and authoritarian parenting among undergraduates. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 19(3), 336-349. doi:10.1080/02673843.2014.928784
  9. Eisenberg, N., Fabes, R. A., Murphy, B., Maszk, P., Smith, M., & Karbon, M. (1995). The role of emotionality and regulation in children's social functioning: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 66(5), 1360-1384. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1995.tb00940.x
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Chan, S. (2010). Aggressive behaviour in early elementary school children: Relations to authoritarian parenting, children's negative emotionality and coping strategies. Early Child Development and Care, 180(9), 1253. doi:10.1080/03004430902981447
  11. Karoly, P. (1993). Mechanisms of self-regulation: A systems view. Annual Review of Psychology, 44(1), 23-52. doi:10.1146/
  12. 12.0 12.1 Kohler, M., Kilgo, J., & Christensen, L. M. (2012). The tiger mom phenomenon. Childhood Education, 88(1), 69.
  13. Tiger mother AnxietyBattle hymn of the tiger mother, penguin press, 2011. amy chua. (2011). Anthropology Now, 3(3), 115-121. doi:10.5816/anthropologynow.3.3.0115