Two schools of thought
Monkey Business Images/shutterstock There’s only a few letters’ difference between the words authoritative and authoritarian. But when it comes to parenting styles, those few letters mean a world of difference between the two schools of thought.
“These are very different styles, different approaches, with very different end goals,” says Alyson Schafer, therapist and author of Honey I Wrecked the Kids. “Authoritarian or autocratic parenting style aims to achieve the goal of raising an obedient child by using external control methodologies—they force the child to behave according to the parents’ will. Authoritative parenting style has much higher faith in the child. The parent believes that the child is teachable, and sees discipline as a teachable moment.” (Don’t miss the 17 forgotten manners every parent should teach their child.)
To get a sense of how these two styles differ, here’s a look inside the challenges—and how a parent following each approach would tackle the same common parenting problem.
Authoritarian Parenting 101
YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/shutterstock If you’ve ever heard a parent offer “Because I said so” as an explanation for a rule, you’ve heard authoritarian parenting. Authoritarian parenting style resembles a dictatorship, according to Fran Walfish, PsyD, a psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Rules, regulations, consequences, and punishments are in place and rigidly enforced,” she says. (This is the one sentence you should never say as a parent.)
The downside to that? Kids may not learn the skills they need to thrive when the authority figure isn’t around. “This parenting style results in one of three types of adults,” Schafer says. “You’ll get a pleaser who needs the approval of an authority figure, you’ll get a rebel who says ‘I’ll have nothing to do with this kind of control,’ or you’ll get the sneak, somebody who goes about achieving their own end purposes without getting caught.”