Parenting Styles That Encourage Responsible Children

Ask any parent about the importance of responsibility, and you’ll get the same answer. All parents want to raise responsible children, but the results parents get vary substantially. As H. Jackson Brown so eloquently stated, “Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.”  Responsible children are better equipped to function in the working world, have fewer difficulties getting along with their parents and are more likely to make friends.

Developmental psychologists are scientists who study all aspects of children’s development, and they’ve done substantial research into the way different parenting styles affect children. They’ve found that there are three distinct parenting styles that can influence children’s ability to take responsibility, and have overwhelmingly concluded that one parenting style is much more effective than the other two.

Authoritarian Parenting
When parents talk about the “good old days” of tough rules and little concern about self esteem, they are typically referring to an authoritarian parenting style. Authoritarian parents are very strict and quick to dole out punishments. They are also less likely to reward good behavior. These parents frequently discourage their children from expressing their own opinions and questioning their parents and might refer to this behavior as “back-talking.”

Authoritarian parents are generally more interested in rules than in fun. Authoritarian parents might, for example, focus on getting their child to clean out the litter box or change out the dog wee wee pads rather than encouraging them to come up with a new trick to teach the dog, or play with the kitten.

While it might seem that strict parenting would yield well-behaved, responsible children, this parenting style is actually relatively ineffective. Children raised by authoritarian parents typically grow into adults who respect rules but who have little self direction. Without a specific rule, these adults are unsure of how to behave. Children raised by authoritarian parents also tend to have lower self esteem that can lead to aggressive, irresponsible behavior. Because responsible behavior frequently requires a child to make good decisions rather than defer to a pre-set rule, authoritarian parents are unlikely to raise children who are responsible in all contexts.

Permissive Parenting
Permissive parents are parents who want to be their children’s friends. They are typically very warm and engaging with their children but have trouble setting limits. For example, when the family gets a dog, permissive parents are unlikely to establish the rules about taking the dog for a walk, keeping them groomed, cleaning the dog’s teeth, or training the dog. They are more likely to perform these tasks themselves, reasoning that childhood should be fun and carefree.

Unsurprisingly, children of permissive parents have difficulties understanding rules or following guidelines because their parents do not establish clear boundaries. This can lead to difficulty completing basic tasks in school as well as long-term trouble understanding social responsibility. Children raised without rules never have the opportunity to understand that some behavior is never acceptable and also never have the chance to question whether some rules are just. This leads to challenges with responsibility and also makes these children easily influenced by others, especially friends.

Authoritative Parenting
If parenting styles were a part of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” authoritative parenting would be the “just right” in between too hot and too cold. Authoritative parents are warm and friendly with their children, and tend to reward good behavior rather than punish bad choices. While these parents allow their child to question rules and parenting decisions, they establish strict boundaries and enforce the rules. They are unlikely to give in to temper tantrums or whining.

This parenting style encourages responsibility in several ways. Children must understand rules in order to develop basic responsibility. Higher level moral reasoning also requires that children understand that authority figures aren’t always right. Because authoritative parents allow their children to ask questions and express opinions, children get practice from a young age at not only obeying rules, but also understanding them. Finally, the warmth authoritative parents show their children encourages children to display compassion and kindness to other people, which is a major component of responsible behavior.

Parenting is challenging, and raising responsible children isn’t always easy. But by setting clear rules and encouraging your child to express herself openly and honestly, you take a major step toward raising a competent, responsible adult.

About the Author:
Jane Warren is a freelance writer specializing in lifestyle, family and pet-related topics on her site, Her valuable insights and money-saving tips have helped numerous people live happier, more fulfilled lives.

Earnest Parenting: help for authoritative parents everywhere.

Image courtesy of jjgwarren, all rights reserved.

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16 Responses to “Parenting Styles That Encourage Responsible Children”

  1. I see the logic of “Authoritarian”, “Permissive”, “Authoritative” parenting – the difference between the two “A’s” kinda tongue-twisting – but miss a description of the “Loving” parenting style. Would the author rather see children parented by good parents who are unloving, or by bad parents who love? I guess my sense of something missing comes from the fact that “Responsible Children” can mean all kinds of things to all kinds of people. Is a child ‘certified’ responsible when it does when and where it is told to do, or when it develops it’s own ability to respond to whatever surprises life has already served up or soon will? One kid might declare, “One day I’m going to be as famous as Coca-Cola”, while another might go for, “One day I’ll have a secure job”. Which parenting style risks to have which belief driven out of their child in a hurry? ~Beat

    • Amy LeForge says:

      Beat – ooooh, interesting thoughts! I personally would view the authoritative parent as being loving. Jane said as much in the post, where she said they’re warm. And yes, responsible can certainly mean so many different things. We’ll have to explore that further! Off the top of my head, I would say a responsible child is someone who can manage themselves in life. Sooooo, they can meet basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing, and they can provide for others if necessary. And, they can manage themselves socially: they know how to think good thoughts about themselves and ignore all the bad stuff the world tosses their way.

  2. Kathy says:

    I don’t have children, so I know it’s not fair for me to voice an opinion…but here it is anyway. I think it’s so obvious to outsiders when a child is being raised by ‘authoritative’ parents. The kids are just happier. As opposed to the children you see who have no structure. Of course, these authoritative parents are also heaping on the good, encouraging stuff too. But so are the ‘permissive’ parents. The difference is the boundaries. The kids who know exactly how far they can run, learn to run the fastest.

    • Amy LeForge says:

      Kathy, you’re a member of this society and therefore your opinion is important. 🙂 I’ve met many permissive parents who strongly believe that they’re doing the right thing. I disagree and land more in the authoritative zone. The only thing I know to say to them is “well, we’ll see how everything turns out in 20 years.”

  3. Dear Jane – and Amy –

    A wonderful post. Every parent should read this.

    I thought this was so important –

    ““Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.”

    Children do not respond to talking. They respond and copy integrity.

    • Amy LeForge says:

      Corinne, that is an awesome quote isn’t it? I confess, I prefer to talk rather than take action. I guess that moves me a little closer to permissive, but I’m learning. I do my best to live an integrous life. I don’t know if they boys will soak all that up or not; I guess we’ll find out in ten years or so.

  4. I agree that there is a happy middle ground in parenting, but at the same time as parents if you have more than one child you soon realize that ever child is different and there is not a true formula for raising children. They all have there differences and as a parent you have to get to know each child and parent them with what works.

    What is important is the love. if a child knows they are loved at all times it makes a great difference. And as parents they do pick up the parents actions, after all we are there roll model from the get go. So parents be the best person you know how to be and your children will come out fine,.

    Thanks for sharing and blessings to both you Amy and Jane

    • Amy LeForge says:

      Debbie, I can treat my children individually but still operate from a main plan of action, so to speak. It sure is hard though! Sometimes I get so frustrated with them that I suddenly realize I haven’t been loving in a while. Thank God they’re so forgiving. Hopefully we all make it to their adulthood and they only remember the right things I did.

  5. While it is true there are many parenting styles, it is such a toss up when you come to personalities. While I feel that free wheeling parenting never works, I have seen some examples of wonderful people who emerged from that type of parenting. It depends so much on the personality of the child. I think the most important ingredient is love, followed by a sense of flexibility and fairness mixed in with firm structure. And talking, and laughter.

  6. Amy

    I think ‘parenting’ has changed from generation to generation. Two generations back I see the parents being much more Authoritarian. These days parents lean towards Permissive. Is that because as parents we are all far too busy and just want an easy life?


  7. Crikey, there’s a lot to think about as a parent! It’s interesting how views change when you become a parent. I saw a woman dragging her boy by the arm through a store the other day as he was screaming. On one hand I thought I’d never do that, on the other the kid can do as he’s told….. 🙂

    I’ll just wing it and see what happens!

    • Amy LeForge says:

      Joel, I’ve been winging it for 14 years now. I’m getting better at things. I’ve often wished that someone could take all the wisdom and perspective I’ll have when they’re 18 and download it into my brain now. Wouldn’t that be better???

  8. This is a tough one for me. I’m definitely a more go with the flow parent.. More interested in creativity than rules, but like any mom, I’ve got my hot buttons.. No chewing gum, sit correctly at the table. use manners always and help around the house. Do I spoil my daughter. Yes, but mostly with love and fun. These days I think if you grow up to be a creative person you’ll have a much happier life than learning how to follow rules.

  9. Bruce says:

    I was never permissive as a parent but I think I am as a Grandparent. I hear “You wouldn’t have let us do that.” all the time from my grown kids. I think there has to be a mix, but it has to be done so that the child knows you approve of them and have their back. I think if you are fair even if you are tough, you kids will do OK. I have seen people with completely different styles raise their kids. Those that taught the kids that taking small chances was OK win or lose seemed to have kids who could handle life the best.

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