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154: Authoritative isn’t the best Parenting “Style”
24th April 2022 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:51:41

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“On average, authoritative parents spanked just as much as the average of all other parents.  Undoubtedly, some parents can be authoritative without using spanking but we have no evidence that all or even most parents can achieve authoritative parenting without an occasional spank.”    I was fascinated by this statement, since authoritative parenting is the best style.     We know it’s the best, right?   I mean, everyone says it is.  Including me.   And who was the co-author on this paper this statement comes from?     None other than Dr. Diana Baumrind, creator of the Parenting Styles (although they weren’t called that then; they were originally called the Models of Parental Control.     Just to make sure we’re on the same page here, I’m going to say that again: Dr. Diana Baumrind, who created the parenting styles/model of parental control, says you can’t achieve the parenting style that has the ‘best’ outcomes for children without an occasional spank.   So in this episode we dig pretty deeply into what makes up the parenting styles, and what Dr. Baumrind and others found about the effectiveness of these styles, and what impacts they had on children.  (And I have to warn you now, the samples sizes we’re looking at to ‘prove’ that authoritative is the best parenting style are going to make your stomach churn.)  

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Jump to Highlights

01:33 Introduction to today’s topic 04:05 Influential figures like Dr. Larzelere and Dr. Baumrind supported spanking within authoritative parenting. 16:19 Traditional parenting expects child compliance, emphasizing authority over autonomy, and conformity over individuality. 28:30 Dr. Baumrind's parenting styles theory categorizes parenting into two extremes, neglecting the middle ground of "harmonious parenting."  38:30 Harmonious parenting emphasizes reasoning and mutual understanding while behavioral compliance can create mixed messages about control and values, reflecting broader societal power dynamics. 46:19 Parenting styles must adapt to cultural diversity and consider alternative parenting goals, emphasizing mutual understanding and meeting children's needs. 49:46 Understanding and meeting the needs of children and parents can eliminate the need for punishment.      [accordion] [accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"] Jen Lumanlan  00:02 Hi, I'm Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives, but it can be so, Jenny  00:09 Do you get tired of hearing the same old intros to podcast episodes? I don't really, but Jen thinks you might. I'm Jenny, a listener from Los Angeles. Testing out a new way for listeners to record the introductions to podcast episodes. There's no other resource out there quite like Your Parenting Mojo, which doesn't just tell you about the latest scientific research on parenting and child development but puts it in context for you as well. So, you can decide whether and how to use this new information. I listen because parenting can be scary and it's reassuring to know what the experts think. If you'd like to get new episodes in your inbox, along with a free infographic on 13 Reasons Your Child Isn't Listening To You and what to do about each one. Sign up at You can also join the free Facebook group to continue the conversation. Over time, you might get sick of hearing me read this intro, so come and record one yourself. You can read from a script Jen provided or have some real fun with it and write your own. Just go to I can't wait to hear yours. Jen Lumanlan  01:33 Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. Before we get started, I wanted to mention that I'm reopening my Setting, Loving, and Effective Limits Workshop today. So, if you struggle to set limits on your child's behavior or if you set limits and your child disregards them, I'd encourage you to hop on in and sign up for the workshop because it's completely free. And for the first time, we have two ways to take it. You can do the Guided Path, where we walk you through it step-by-step starting in a few weeks, or you can do the Flex Path option, where you can get all the content as fast as you can complete the work if you just need the information now. So, to find out more about the totally free Setting, Loving, and Effective Limits Workshop and to sign up, go to So today, we're going to talk about a topic I have been absolutely itching to dive into for months now, ever since I researched the episode on spanking with Dr. Andrew Grogan-Kaylor. So, you might well be familiar with the four parenting styles that were developed by Dr. Diana Baumrind, and you can imagine them on a two-by-two grid with the amount of parental control along the X axis, and the amount of parental warmth and responsiveness on the Y axis, so down in the lower left corner with Low Control and Low Warmth is Uninvolved Parenting, where parents don't ask a lot and they also don't give the child a lot either. In the upper left is Low Control but High Warmth, which Dr. Baumrind called Permissive Parenting. The lower right corner of High Control and Low Warmth is where we often find ourselves, sometimes even when we don't mean to be, which is “Authoritarian Parenting,” and I will add that setting limits puts us there pretty often. And in the upper right corner of High Control and also High Warmth is the supposed Holy Grail of Parenting, the “Authoritative Parenting Style,” and I do wish those names were more different, because I get them confused all the time and I'm going to try not to do that in this episode. Dr. Nancy Darling says that, "A parenting style is a constellation of attitudes toward the child that are communicated to the child, and create an emotional climate in which the parents' behaviors are expressed. Parenting style is expressed through parenting practices," although Dr. Baumrind's work really focuses mostly on the styles and doesn't talk so much about how these translate into things, parents actually do the practices so her parenting styles are pretty much-considered gospel in the parenting world. I've seen them cited everywhere, from popular books to her reviewed research, and never with any criticism It's just these are the parenting styles, and authoritative is the best one. And I will fully admit that I have done that too. Jen Lumanlan  04:05 But while I was researching that episode on spanking, I came across a little nugget of a comment in a paper, and the comment was that, “On average, authoritative parents spank just as much as the average of all other parents. Undoubtedly, some parents can be authoritative without using spanking, but we have no evidence that all or even most parents can achieve authoritative parenting without an occasional spank.” And who are the authors of this paper? None other than Dr. Robert Larzelere, who has defended spanking far and wide for years with the co-author of Dr. Diana Baumrind of The Parenting Styles, so what the person who created these parenting styles is saying that the very best parenting style that results in the very best outcomes for children has ‘spanking’ as an integral component. Yes, you might be able to achieve this best parenting style without spanking, but goodness knows we severely doubt it. You really have to read the rest of the paper to believe it. If you want to find it, it's linked in the references and it's called Our Spanking Injunction Scientifically Supported, the author set out to show that spanking and junctions are not scientifically supported largely because both spanking and timeouts are shown to modify a child's behavior effectively. You might recall from the episode on Spanking that we discussed how a quirk in timing means is actually research by Dr. Mark Roberts at Idaho State University showing a cause-and-effect relationship between spanking and children's improved behavior that supports the use of spanking. This kind of research used to be allowed by university ethics committees and that study got in under the wire, and then the ethics committees started prohibiting research that involves beating children, so there can never be any research disproving this causal relationship. But the real kicker here is that the reason that Dr. Larzelere and Dr. Baumrind say ‘we should keep spanking’ is that parents benefit from having disciplinary options. They say that timeout is effective when it's practiced in the lab in a four-foot by five-foot empty room with a four-foot-high plywood barrier, as was used in Dr. Roberts's clinic and we just don't know if timeout is as effective as spanking in any other setting, so if families don't happen to have an isolation room with a four-foot-high plywood barrier, then they should spank their children if they need to because no other disciplinary method has been shown to be as effective. They go on to justify Dr. Roberts's use of a mean of 8.6 spankings before the child stays in timeout in one study, which they say, "Shows the difficulty of getting cooperation with timeout from clinically defiant young children who have learned to undermine all parental control attempts." These authors want to teach parents "how to punish more effectively," which means spanking their children if the child won't stay in timeout so the child will stay in timeout and the parent won't need to "escalate the severity of their verbal or physical punishment.” Of course, as soon as I learned this, I wanted to dig into these parenting styles and find out whether they are really something that should still be bandied about without questioning them. Jen Lumanlan  07:02 The first thing I learned was that Dr. Baumrind actually never referred to them as parenting styles. In an early paper from 1966, back when there were only Permissive, Authoritarian, and Authoritative Styles and Neglectful hadn't been added yet, she referred to them as “Three Models of Parental Control.” She went on to say the effects of punitiveness, which is punishment that is severe, unjust, ill-timed, and administered by an unloving parent, is probably harmful, as well as ineffective, but these "should not be confused with the effects on the child of particular forms of mild punishment, physical or otherwise." So, not only does mild punishment not have negative effects, but it may have beneficial side effects, and she described these in academic language, so I'm going to translate them, and there are five beneficial side effects, and these are: firstly, after the "Emotional Release of Punishment," which we have to assume is mostly only happening for the parent, both parent and child may be able to return to being affectionate with each other more quickly than they would if the child hadn't been punished. Number two, “Any siblings who watch the misbehaving child getting punished are less likely to misbehave in that way themselves.” Number three, and I think this one might be my favorite, is “The child will copy the aggressive parent, which will result in positive assertive behavior with other people.” Number four, “The child won't feel as much guilt because they misbehaved.” And number five, “The child will be able to endure punishment to achieve a goal.” I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I read this list, so a child misbehaves and because the parent needs to release their frustration about what the child did, the parent should spank the child so they can go back to being affectionate again more quickly. I find it hard to believe the experience of a release of frustration through being hit but then makes them quickly feel affectionate again more quickly than they would have if they hadn't been hit. I'm willing to believe that siblings watching the punishment are less likely to do the thing the punished child did, except if that activity really meets one of their needs, and they decide the value of meeting that need outweighs the negative of punishment. On the copying of the aggressive parent, pretty much every parent I worked with who has more than one child at some point, posts in our community about their wit's end with their children fighting with each other, and what we typically see is when the parent hits the child, the child hits other people more, if they're a really assertive child, then they might hit the parent, although usually, this power flows downhill. And I'm reminded of a cartoon I saw recently with four frames in it. In the first, a man is getting yelled at by his boss and then he goes home and yells at his wife, and the wife yells at the children, and the children torment the family hat. So children know that power shouldn't flow uphill in a traditional hierarchical family, so they displace it to their other siblings or to the pet who can't fight back. Honestly, the only "benefit" I see if there's positive assertive behavior with others is it promotes White supremacy, this is parenting advice geared towards White parents who are preparing their children to take up their rightful role at the head of society, so they need to learn the people in power should be assertive and should punish those below them who step out of line. Jen Lumanlan  10:06 So that's what I read about Dr. Baumrind's stance on punishment that peak my interest because I had no idea that the person who developed the parenting style that everyone, including myself, accepts pretty much unquestionably as the superior one was not just developed by someone who believes spanking is good for children, but has said that while some authoritative parents may be able to achieve this best method without spanking, the vast majority will not. Spanking children is thus central to achieving the so-called best parenting style, something I had never realized in all of the years I've spent researching child development. So, of course, as soon as I read this, I wanted to dive deeper, so, Dr. Baumrind has only written three books as far as I can tell. One of these was on research methodology and other I couldn't find anywhere, but the third is called child maltreatment and optimal caregiving and social context, which is a longish position paper commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences, Study Panel on Child Abuse and Neglect with a goal of "applying what we know about normative family functioning to the circumstances of abusive and neglectful families". The book contains a summary of the parenting styles and how these apply to different populations and I'll just briefly address that different populations piece, so Dr. Baumrind actually comes right out and says something that I've gathered to be true from the research I've read over the many years, which is that "by studying healthy, affluent, middle-class samples, thus eliminating the pre potent effects of prejudice, poverty and chronic illness on children, the influence of variations in normal child-rearing styles on child outcomes can be identified.” And what she's saying here is that when we study middle-class White children who don't face a lot of stressors, we'll know how children should optimally develop, and then if we can just get everybody else to raise their children that way, then all children will grow up to have the advantages that middle class White children have. And this assumes, of course, that the way middle class White children develop right now is optimal, and as many of the parents I work with are middle class White parents, and I'm one too, I think it's safe to say that middle-class White parenting has left it scars on us, so to hold it up as the paragon of how to parent is a bit mistaken in my view. So now let's take a look at what makes up these parenting styles, Dr. Baumrind says that "data obtained from normal families usually focus on facets of responsiveness, meaning warmth, reciprocity, and attachment and demandingness, meaning firm control, monitoring positive and negative reinforcement,” and then she cites both early and current studies in support of this idea so let's look at each both responsiveness and demandingness individually. Jen Lumanlan  12:38 Dr. Baumrind says that "warmth refers to the parents’ emotional expression of love that motivates high investment parenting and brings about cohesive family relationships". Babies anticipate how their caregiver is likely to respond to their behavior, and they try to get the caregiver to adjust their plans to take the baby's needs into account, which the caregiver is often willing to do if they have empathy with and experience warmth toward the baby. This give and take based on willing compliance is characteristic of authoritative families and is based on mutual good feelings, rather than a tip for that...