If you study Psychology or like reading Psychology articles, you would have learned by now that the person you have become is not solely the result of your genes (nature), or because of the environment you grew up in (nurture), but an interaction between the two. In this article, we will be looking more deeply into the growth environment and one element that is part of that environment – parents. According to Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory (Bronfebrenner, 1992), a child grows up in a context of multiple environments, also known as ecological systems. The smallest ecological system is referred as the microsystem, which is the most immediate environment in which the child lives, comprising of people such as parents, peers, and teachers. Typically, children spend most of their childhood and teenage years living with their parents. Thus, the interaction between children and their parents has a huge impact on who they are as a person. This article will begin by briefly describing Baumrind’s (1967) and Maccoby and Martin’s (1983) four parenting styles, which are the most well-known and influential typological approaches in parenting, and then compare specifically the authoritative parenting style with the likes of our perfect Father in heaven.
4 Types of Parenting Styles
According to Baumrind (1971, 1978, 1989) and Maccoby and Martin (1983), there are 4 types of parenting styles. Parenting styles are categorized based on two dimensions of parenting behaviors – demandingness and responsiveness (Baumrind, 1991). Demandingness refers to the extent parents guide their children’s behavior, expect high standards or demand their maturity. Responsiveness, on the other hand, refers to the degree parents are sensitive to their children’s emotional and developmental needs. Below is a chart to show where each of the parenting style falls in the different dimensions.
We will start with the authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parents score high on measures of control and maturity demands, at the same time scoring high on measures of warmth and responsiveness; providing attention, feedback, and adequate support (Baumrind, 1978; Maccoby and Martin, 1983). These parents are known for explaining the reasons behind their rules. They enforce rules and consequences, while at the same time taking their children’s feelings into consideration; thus validating their children’s feelings while also making it clear that the adults are ultimately in charge (Baumrind, 1991).
These parents score high on measures of control and maturity demands but low on measures of responsiveness, warmth, and bidirectional communication (Maccoby and Martin, 1983). They are “obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation” (Baumrind, 1967). Authoritarian parents are known for saying, “Because I said so,” when a child questions the rationale behind these rules. Thus, mistakes are punished, yet their children are often left wondering exactly what they did wrong.
Parents score excessively low on measures of control, maturity demands, and tolerance of misbehavior, but moderately high on measures of responsiveness (Baumrind, 1978; Maccoby and Martin, 1983). They are more like friends than parents and offer limited guidance or direction, mostly allowing their children to do what they want. Permissive parents are very forgiving and adopt an attitude of “kids will be kids”, so they set rules but rarely enforce them.
These parents score low on both measures of control and maturity demands and responsiveness and warmth (Maccoby and Martin, 1983). They expect children to raise themselves and do not devote much time or energy into meeting their children’s basic needs. Thus, children may not receive much guidance, nurturing, and parental attention. However, this neglect might not always be intentional. For instance, a parent with mental health issues or substance abuse problems may not be able to attend to the child’s physical or emotional needs on a consistent basis.
A host of studies have shown a positive association between authoritative parenting and beneficial outcomes such as better academic performance, better school engagement, less risk of substance abuse, etc. (Baumrind, 1967; Dornbusch et al., 1987; Baumrind, 1991; Steinberg et al., 1992). However, we should keep in mind that the environment consists of other factors that also play an important role in shaping a child, such as culture, children’s perceptions of parental treatment, and social influences such as peers or teachers. The level of demandingness and responsiveness may also differ across different stages of a child’s development. For instance, more control is required at a child’s early years, when his frontal lobe and decision making skills are still developing, as well as more guidance and discipline. However, as a child grows older, parents could afford less control and more autonomy could be granted to the child.
Having said that, to this date, many studies have consistently shown the advantages of authoritative parenting and no study has conclusively disproved its benefits. Therefore, authoritative parenting is still the parenting style of choice recommended by experts.
Our Perfect Father in Heaven
When I learned about the different parenting styles, the authoritative parenting style really resonated with how God, who is also our perfect Father in Heaven, treats us, and this resonance makes it clearer and more certain as to why the authoritative parenting style is the healthiest and most recommended approach.
He is responsive to our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs
God is not an uninvolved and disinterested Father, who leaves us to raise ourselves on our own devices. Our interaction with God does not stop at Genesis 1:31, where God saw all that He had made, and thought it was very good. When Adam and Eve first fell into sin, followed by the murder of Abel, and how the human race continued to sin against God, God did not just let the universe run its own course. The whole Bible is a factual account of how God intervened by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, to liberate the human race from the deathly clutch of sin and eternal death. This salvation is personal as much as it is universal. In addition, our Father in heaven is responsive towards us and cares for us, both physically (Matthew 6:26) and emotionally (1 Peter 5:7). He listens and answers our prayers (John 14:13; Jeremiah 33:3) and bears our grief and sorrows (Psalm 34:18; 56:8). And better yet, He knows what is best for us and always has our best interest at heart (Romans 8:28, 31). Just like God, authoritative parents are warm and responsive, providing their children with the affection and support they need.
He disciplines us, like a good father would his children
This verse describes as much: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV). Also, God highly demands for us to live a Christ-like life. “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16 ESV). Indeed, our God is a forgiving, loving, and understanding God (Psalm 86:5, Micah 7:18-19; Daniel 9:9), but these attributes were so often emphasized that we tend to use them as an excuse to sin against Him. How many times in the Bible have we seen the visitation of divine wrath on people who sinned against God? In fact, some theologians such as D. A. Carson and John MacArthur claimed that Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven to warn men of its reality. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10 ESV). God has been extremely gracious to us in sending His Son to die on the cross, and His grace demands a life which reflects that faith (James 2:17) and a life of submission to Him (Romans 12:1).
He is not a dictator but a God who takes into account His children’s feelings and requests, and accommodates to us
Unlike authoritarian parents who think that children should only be seen but not heard, communication with God is not one-way – from God to us only – but two-way. An example of divine accommodation can be found in Gen. 18, when Abraham appealed to God’s justice. God told Abraham that He will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah in its entirety and clearly, from Abraham’s conversation with God, we could see how disturbed he was by this; concerned that the innocent would perish along with the guilty.
Gen. 18:23-25 (ESV):
Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
God would never kill innocent people along with the guilty, but He was willing to bend over backwards for Abraham. He said He would spare the whole city if Abraham could find forty five righteous people, thirty, and then ten. The text implied that God would have spared the city for one person if Abraham could find one. But Sodom and Gomorrah ended up being destroyed, indicating that there was not one innocent person to begin with, that God did right, and His justice is perfect justice (Sproul, 2006). Abraham was not able to comprehend this initially with his limited mind, but God was willing to accommodate to his limitations. In addition, in verse 29, we see how the Lord remembered, meaning considered, Abraham’s request and rescued Lot out of respect to Abraham.
Another example could be found in Exodus 32. God told Moses that His wrath will burn against the Israelites who worshiped and sacrificed to the golden calf that they have made for themselves. However, when Moses argued and pleaded God to spare the Israelites, God relented from the disaster that He had spoken of bringing on His people. In verse 10, God said, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” Though it seemed to forbid Moses’ interceding, it actually really encouraged it; when God resolves to abandon a people and the decree of ruin has been set, no intercession can prevent it, but God spares and reprieves upon the intercession of others for them. This shows the power the prayer of faith has with God – of how He listens to our prayers and takes into account our feelings despite ultimately being in charge.
He provides rationales behind His rules. The bible is not a string of pearls, but a chain of linked thoughts
For example, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on….” (Matthew 6:25 ESV). Jesus gave us a command not to be anxious. If we were to ask God “why?” Or “how could I not be anxious, oh Lord?” He did not reply us with a crude “because I said so.” Jesus provided us with several reasons why we shouldn’t be anxious. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (v. 25b). Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (v. 26). And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (v. 27). And so on.
Another example would be “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Philippians 2:14 ESV). This verse is followed by “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world”. We are to cease from grumbling because of our contentedness and confidence in God has the intended result of us shining like lights in a dark world.
Just like God, authoritative parents are known for explaining the rationale behind their rules. God wants us to obey Him joyfully, with the assurance that He is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31) and that all His decrees are for our ultimate benefit (Deut. 10:12-13). A child can freely and sincerely submit to his parents’ rules only if he believes that his parents have his/her best interest at heart.
I would like to end this article by quoting John Piper, “[Children] ought to see in their human father a reflection—albeit imperfect—of the heavenly Father in his strength and tenderness, in his wrath and mercy, in his exaltation and condescension, in his surpassing wisdom and patient guidance. The task of every human father is to be for his children an image of the Father in heaven” (Piper, 2007). Some fathers show their kids what it’s like to have God as their father; others don’t. Psychology has shown us that the authoritative parenting style is the way to go, but let us look up to God as the perfect role model, and regardless of whether recalling our parents stimulates anxiety and sadness or gratitude and honor, let us give thanks and celebrate even more that we are in God’s family and children of a perfect Father. (DA)
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Baumrind, D. (1978). Parental disciplinary patterns and social competence in children. Youth & Society, 9(3), 239-267.
Baumrind, D. (1989). Child Development Today and Tomorrow (1st ed., pp. 349-378). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Baumrind, D. (1991). The Encyclopedia of Adolescence (pp. 746-758). New York: Garland Publishing.
Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Six Theories of Child Development: Revised Formulations and Current Issues. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 187-249.
Dornbusch, S., Ritter, P., Leiderman, P., Roberts, D., & Fraleigh, M. (1987). The relation of parenting style to adolescent school performance. Child Development, 58(5), 1244.
Maccoby, E., & Martin, J. (1983). Handbook of Child Psychology, Socialization, Personality and Social Development. New York: Wiley.
Piper, J. (1986). Fathers Who Give Hope [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/fathers-who-give-hope
Sproul, R. (2006). The Holiness of God (2nd ed., pp. 99-129). Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.
Steinberg, L., Lamborn, S., Dornbusch, S., & Darling, N. (1992). Impact of parenting practices on adolescent achievement: Authoritative parenting, school involvement, and encouragement to succeed. Child Development, 63(5), 1266.