In the ongoing battle between Tiger Moms, French Mamas, and everyone else who wants to know how best to raise their kids, a new study adds evidence that the extreme Tiger-style may do more harm than good.
Authoritarian parents are more likely to end up with disrespectful children who engage in delinquent behaviors, the study found, compared to parents who listen to their kids with the goal of gaining trust.
It was the first study to look at how parenting styles affect the way teens view their parents and, in turn, how they behave.
The study considered three general styles of parenting. Authoritative parents are demanding and controlling while also being warm and sensitive to their children's needs.
Authoritarian parents, by contrast, are demanding and controlling without those compassionate layers of caring, attachment and receptiveness. They take a "my way or the highway" approach to their kids.
Permissive parents, the third group, have warm and receptive qualities, but they define few boundaries and enforce few rules.
Using data on nearly 600 kids from an ongoing study of middle school and high school students in New Hampshire, researchers from the University of New Hampshire were able to link "my way or the highway" parenting with more delinquency in kids - measured in behaviors like shop-lifting, substance abuse and attacking someone else with the intention of hurting or killing.
Firm but loving parenting, on the other hand, led to fewer transgressions. Permissive parenting, surprisingly, didn't seem to make much of a difference either way.
To explain the link between parenting style and behavior in kids, the researchers suggest that what matters most is how "legitimate" kids think their parents' authority is. This sense of legitimacy comes when kids trust that their parents are making the best decisions for them and believe that they need to do what their parents say even if they don't always like how their parents are treating them.
When kids respect the authority of their parents, the researchers reported in the Journal of Adolescence, their behavior is better. Previous research has also linked firm but caring parenting with kids who have more self-control and self-reliance.
"When children consider their parents to be legitimate authority figures, they trust the parent and feel they have an obligation to do what their parents tell them to do," said lead researcher Rick Trinkner.
"This is an important attribute for any authority figure to possess, as the parent does not have to rely on a system of rewards and punishments to control behavior, and the child is more likely to follow the rules when the parent is not physically present."