How Different Parenting Styles Affect Children’s Development

In her original research program, Baurmind studied the relationship between different parenting styles and the development of what she called instrumental competence in children.  Instrumental competence refers to the extent to which children are generally competent in four basic modes of behaving:  social responsibility, independence, achievement orientation and vitality.  Socially responsible children are able to get along well with peers and adults.  They are friendly with others, cooperative with adults, and supportive rather than disruptive of the work of peers.   Independent children are able to direct their own age-appropriate activities without constant direction and intervention from adults.   They are able to be self-assertive and purpose while at the same time being sensitive to the needs of others.  Achievement-oriented children are those who seek or accept intellectual challenge both in and out of school.  They are able to solve problems effectively and persistently without being impulsive and overly dependent upon others.  Finally, vitality simply refers to a child’s everyday level of biological energy and well-being.  Children who show vitality are those who approach everyday life with enthusiasm and vigor rather than apathy or disinterest.

Baumrind found that children of authoritative parents tended to show higher levels of instrumental competence than did children of either authoritarian or permissive parents.   Children of authoritative parents tended to be assertive and purposeful, cooperative and friendly, active and energetic while also showing strong motivation toward achievement.   In contrast, children of authoritarian parents tended to be more withdrawn, showing less energy and vitality in everyday tasks.  They tended to be more shy and withdrawn around their peers.   Children of permissive parenting showed many of the same behaviors.  They showed lower levels of independence, self-control and vitality than did children of authoritative parents.

Why do children of authoritative parents turn out be the most instrumentally competent?   The reason is that authoritative parents provide children with both clear direction and responsive support.   Children need both.   High standards and maturity demands are necessary to provide the direction for children’s development.  High levels of responsive nurturance are necessary to provide the emotional support that children need to confront the changing challenges and demands of life.  Think of all of the learning that a child has to do over the course of development.  Imagine that children had to confront all that learning alone.   How could she do it?   Without guidance, she would not know what to do.  Without emotional support, she would constantly feel overwhelmed by the challenges of everyday life.   Children need both guidance and support.  That is what authoritative parents provide.

It may seem surprising that children of authoritarian and permissive parents both tend to show similar profiles of behavior – namely, relatively low levels of instrumental competence.   After all, authoritarian and permissive parents treat their children in largely opposite ways.  Why do their children turn out similar?    The answer is simple.   Children need both clear direction and responsive support.   Authoritarian parents provide direction without the responsive support; permissive parents provide support without direction.   As a result, children of permissive parents come to feel loved, but fail to develop an inner sense of direction.  Children of authoritarian parents know what is expected of them, but often fail to develop the inner security and self-assuredness necessary to direct their own lives and maintain mutually supportive relationships with others.

Raising children is largely about teaching children how to adapt to the demands of everyday life.  Human children require 20 years (or more) to reach adulthood.   No other species spends some much time developing outside of the mother’s womb; no other animal requires that much time to reach maturity.   Why is this?    As adults, humans are the most complex and sophisticated animals ever to walk the earth.   Relative to whom they will become as adults, human infants are vastly incomplete beings.   They need those 20 (plus) years to actualize their developmental potential.   In other words, the children need two decades of interaction with their environments in order to become fully developed.  Children can’t do it on their own.  They need the love and guidance of parents (and other socialization agents) to complete them.