According to Baumrind’s theory, the way in which children are raised has a major impact on their functioning and well-being. She noted that the manner in which parents meet the joint needs of children for nurturance and limit-setting greatly influences their degree of social competence and behavioural adjustment (Baumrind, 1991, cited in Slicker, 1998). Of the four parenting styles mentioned in Baumrind’s typology, authoritative parenting appears to have the most positive behavioural and emotional outcomes. Children of such parents tend to be more socially competent and responsible, more self-reliant and confident and less susceptible to both internalizing and externalizing problems than children exposed to other parenting styles. (Patock-Peckham & Morgan-Lopez, 2007).
The combination of low care and high control which characterizes authoritarian parenting has been shown to have opposite effects on children. Among middle class European-Americans, it appears to be associated with the most problematic outcomes among children and adolescents (Bush & Peterson, 2007). Among U.S. samples, researchers have also found this style to be associated with negative outcomes such as conduct disorder, externalizing behaviour and lower levels of social competence (Baumrind, 1971, cited in Bush & Peterson, 2007).
Bandura’s social learning theory suggest possible reasons for the negative effects of authoritarian parenting often cited in the existing literature. Bandura’s theory emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behavioural, emotional and attitudinal responses of others in our environment. He suggests that we rely on others for information about ourselves, our world, and the way in which we should behave (Bandura, 1977, cited in McPherson, 2004). We observe the behaviours of others as well as the outcomes of their actions and expect to obtain similar results if we imitate them. However, we are more likely to attend to and imitate these behaviours if the person modeling them has an admired status (McPherson, 2004) Although adolescents spend an increasing amount of time away from home, parents still have much influence on them (Gecas & Seff, 1990, cited in McPherson, 2004) and are likely to be salient models in their lives. In addition to observing and modeling the actions of others, Bandura also suggested that individuals observe and monitor their own behaviours and derive judgements about these behaviours depending on the responses they elicit from others. These judgements can either result in positive or negative emotional reactions (Cardwell & Flanagan, 2003).
Bandura’s theory suggests that adolescents observe, interpret, and imitate the actions and emotional reactions of their parents. If parents are harsh, controlling and emotionally cold, children may imitate these patterns in their own interactions, increasing the likelihood of behavioural problems. Adolescents may also interpret these parental behaviours as signs that they are unloved and this could lead to persistent feelings of sadness or depression. Authoritarian decision-making by parents may also be judged as an indication of incompetence on the part of adolescents, causing them to feel helpless and unable to control their own lives.
Despite the foregoing, one cannot immediately conclude that children of authoritarian parents are certain to experience adverse emotional and behavioural outcomes. Among Euro-American children, this tends to be the outcome but there are studies which raise doubts as to the generalizability of these findings to other ethnic and cultural groups. One study, for example, showed that in Arab societies, authoritarian parenting is not associated with adverse effects on adolescents’ mental health as it is in Western societies. (Dwairy, Achoui, Abouserie, & Farah, 2006, cited in Martinez, Garcia & Yubero, 2007). The reported superior benefits of authoritative parenting over other parenting styles have also been called into question by studies in other cultures. In Mexico, for example, results of one study suggest that authoritative and indulgent parenting are associated with equal outcomes for adolescents (Villalobos, Cruz, & Sanchez, 2004, cited in Martinez et al., 2007). Furthermore, no differences were found between adolescents from authoritative and indulgent families on measures of competence and adjustment, although they both scored higher than their peers from neglectful families. Similarly, in studies conducted in Spain (Musitu & Garcia, 2001, cited in Martinez et al., 2007) and Italy (Marchetti, 1997, cited in Martinez et al., 2007) adolescents raised by indulgent parents obtained equal or even higher scores on self esteem than those raised by authoritative parents.
According to Martinez et al. (2007), the discrepancies in the relationship between parenting styles and adolescent outcomes suggest that parenting practices have different meanings and ramifications depending on the socio-cultural context in which they occur. In Asian cultures, for example, authoritarian parenting is widely practiced with positive effects on children (Grusec, Rudy, & Martini, 1997, cited in Martinez et al., 2007). However, it has been noted that among Asians, this style is associated with parental concern and love whereas among Americans it is associated with parental hostility and dominance (Rohner & Pettengill, 1985, cited in Martinez et al., 2007; Kim & Chun, 1994, cited in Martinez et al., 2007). This could therefore explain the difference in the effects that this parenting style has on children in both cultures.
Bush, K. R., & Peterson, G. W. (2007). Family influences on child development. In T. P. Gullotta & G. M. Ramos (Eds.). Handbook of childhood behavioural issues: Evidence-based approaches to prevention and treatment (pp. 43-68). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.
Cardwell, M., & Flanagan, C. (2003). Psychology A2: The complete companion. United Kingdom: Nelson Thornes Ltd.
Martínez, I., García, J. F., & Yubero, S. (2007). Parenting styles and adolescents’ self-esteem in Brazil. Psychological Reports, 100, 731-745.
McPherson, M. E. (2004). Parenting behavior, adolescent depression, alcohol use, tobacco use, and academic performance: A path model. Unpublished master’s thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia. Retrieved April 14, 2009, from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-08142004-194326/unrestricted/Thesis1.pdf
Patock-Petham, J. A., & Morgan-Lopez, A. A. (2007). College drinking behaviours; mediational links between parenting styles, parenting bonds, depression, and alcohol problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviours, 21 (3), 297-306.
Slicker, E. K. (1998). Relationship of parenting style to behavioural adjustment in graduating high school seniors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 27 (3), 345-372.
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