What is an Authoritarian Parent?
Two things define authoritarian parenting: high demands and low responsiveness.
High Demands: Parents have expectations that children follow directions with no explanations, lots of restrictions and harsh punishments.
Low Responsiveness: Parents don’t consider child’s circumstances or feelings. Authoritarian parents are often stern, strict, cold, and aloof to their child’s emotional needs.
Some examples of authoritarian parenting include:
- A demand for respect without question
- “My way or the highway” mindset
- “Children must be seen and not heard”
- “Because I said so!”
Why Authoritarian Parenting Happens
Advocates of authoritarian parenting feel they are well intentioned and believe in a “tough love” parenting style. If a child learns to handle punishments from parents, they will be “tougher” and better prepared to deal with the harsh realities of life. It often stems from a fear of “coddling” or “spoiling” their child and wanting their child to learn respect.
The Effects of Authoritarian Parenting
As well-intentioned as these types of parents may be, there are serious consequences to this style of parenting such as:
- Lack of problem-solving skills: When children are told to do something with no questions asked, they focus only on obedience. As they enter their late teens and adulthood, they lack the ability to problem-solve when faced with hard challenges on their own.
- Low self-esteem: Children of an authoritarian parent learn that their opinions don’t matter, and they shouldn’t even try to share what they think.
- Depression: A lack of self-esteem and feeling socially incompetent can lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression.
- Rebellion: Children may become resentful towards their authoritarian upbringing and can rebel against their parents values, especially in adolescence and adulthood.
- Escapist Behaviors: Often closely tied to rebellion, children may want to escape from anger or resentment towards parents and look to substance abuse and even suicide.
How to Avoid Being an Authoritarian Parent
As you can see, the effects of authoritarian parenting are serious. So, how do we avoid it?
- Build a connection with your child: They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Take time to have conversations with your child so you understand what they are going through in school, sports or activities, and with their friends. Having constant and open dialogue will help them feel like they can trust you and their feelings matter.
- Be flexible with rules when needed: Gasp! Some parents may cringe when hearing that but yes, it’s healthy and sometimes essential to bend the rules. Especially if you have multiple children, the same rule might not work at all times for all kids. Be willing to make adaptations or compromises when appropriate. This will show your child that you understand his/her needs.
- Allow children room to problem solve: It’s important for children to learn to solve problems on their own and the consequences of their actions. This is great to do when they are younger, and the consequences are frequently not as serious. For example, I can let my three-year old learn for herself that if she leaves the house when it’s winter with sandals on, her feet will get cold. Children learn how to problem solve so when they are older and their choices have greater consequences, they will be better prepared to manage tough situations.
We all want what is best for our children. While the authoritarian approach may be appropriate occasionally, the effects are devastating when used consistently. If you notice you are using an authoritarian style of parenting, try incorporating these ways mentioned above into your daily interactions with your children.