Tough Love Or Easy Living? The Parenting Styles Most Effective During Adolescence

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated January 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There’s no one-size-fits-all style when it comes to parenting. Every child and every family dynamic is different. That said, research has proven that certain elements of some styles may promote better outcomes in children over the long term than others. Read on for an overview of the four key parenting styles to better understand which one is best when it comes to parenting your pre-teen or teenaged child.

Parenting Can Be A Challenge

General Tips For Parenting An Adolescent

While kids and their needs will change drastically from childhood to adolescence, there are certain “best practices” for parenting that will always apply. Even in this stage of your child’s life, you can generally still rely on these broad strategies for supporting them that transcends any specific parenting style.

  • Give positive feedback. Teenagers are less likely to let you know how much they still crave your support and praise, but that doesn’t mean this need has lessened. If anything, adolescents may require even more encouragement from you. Your regard can be an important component of the positive self-image they’re working to build at this stage of life.

  • Disseminate resources and guidance. At this age, your child will typically be going through an avalanche of changes when it comes to their body, their sexuality, their social life, their values, their desires for their future, and much more. Preemptively offering resources, advice, and guidance on topics like these is often important, since kids need this type of information but may be too embarrassed to ask for it.

  • Be a good listener. When raising an adolescent, you may be tempted to compare their experience to your own at that age, or to try to control their views or behaviors to ensure their safety or to align with what you think is right. However, resisting these impulses and focusing on listening to the whole story first is often a more effective approach. If you can show your child that you can act as a non-judgmental listening ear, you can cultivate an open dialogue with them that means they’re more likely to come to you when they need help.

  • Teach them practical skills. Before long, your child will be out of the house and on their own. Adolescence is the perfect time to start equipping them with the skills and abilities they’ll eventually need to feel confident in living independently. You can teach them about important tasks like cooking, doing laundry, managing their finances, setting boundaries, and otherwise caring for themselves both physically and mentally. That way, they’ll be ready to take on its challenges when they reach adulthood.

The 4 Main Styles Of Parenting Adolescents

Most parents of teenagers have already been in the role long enough to get an idea of what kind of parents they are. Maybe you have a lot of rules, or very few. Maybe you’re highly involved in the details of your child’s life, or perhaps you’re more the “free-range” type. Much of a person’s parenting style is determined by their personality and their own upbringing, so there’s lots of potential variation. You may be raising your child differently than your neighbor, but that doesn’t mean either of you is necessary ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in your approach. 

That said, most elements of a person’s parenting style can be put into one of four key categories, which are based on developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind’s work from the 1960s. Today, there is now abundant research to support the effectiveness and benefits of some styles over others for children of any age. You’ll notice that the first three styles—authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful—are generally not supported by research as positive approaches. Gaining familiarity with them is helpful mainly so you can avoid their pitfalls.

  1. Authoritarian Parenting

In this style, rules and decisions are made by a parent(s) without any input from others in the family. It’s a “because I said so” approach that leaves little to no room for explanations or discussion. Authoritarian parents typically don’t display much warmth or affection to their children and instead run the household on rules and consequences. Consideration of the child’s social-emotional needs are typically not prioritized or even considered. 

If you’re parenting teens, there is some benefit to elements of this style in the sense that you can offer your kids the assurance of clear limits and boundaries. The problem, however, is that it provides no chance for an open dialogue between you and your child. They may not understand your reasoning behind certain rules and may resent you for strictly enforcing something that seems arbitrary to them. Plus, they may not feel comfortable or like it’s an option to come to you with concerns and problems, meaning they may make decisions on their own without your support, guidance, or even knowledge. Finally, they may also grow up feeling fear and inadequacy due to this approach, which can make their transition to adulthood even rockier. 

A robust body of research supports the fact that authoritarian parenting is more likely to produce negative outcomes. One study reports an observed correlation between this style and the development of obsessive-compulsive tendencies in children. Another found more generally that adolescents who are raised by authoritarian parents tend to have a more negative relationship with “home, health, and emotional adjustment.” So while setting and enforcing clear boundaries and limits for your child is generally a positive thing, doing it in an authoritarian way can do more harm than good.

  1. Permissive Parenting

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is what’s known as permissive or indulgent parenting. On the surface, these parents may seem nearly perfect: They’re warm, nurturing, involved, and loving. The issue, however, is that kids generally need more than nurturing. They also need some level of structure and discipline to give them guidance and make them feel safe.

Permissive parents can be characterized by wanting to be their child's friend and avoiding confrontation at all costs. Unfortunately, this prevents their children from having the opportunity to learn self-control. They’re likely to grow up with the expectation of immediate gratification of their every wish, which can result in frustration and conflict as they move through their teen years and into adulthood. One study also found that children who were raised through permissive parenting—especially when this style came from a parent of their same-sex—were less likely to have the strong self-control skills that are associated with avoiding alcohol use and abuse.

  1. Neglectful Parenting

Because of clear and extensive research on the topic, it’s widely agreed that neglectful parenting—also known as uninvolved parenting—is usually the most damaging style for children of any age.

Neglectful parents do not attend to their child’s physical or emotional needs. There’s rarely open communication and the home environment may not be safe. When people think of child neglect, they often think of how it applies to small children who have clear and immediate needs for care. However, adolescents have crucial needs too—primarily emotional—and not having them met by a parent or caregiver can be damaging, too. One study found that parental neglect had a direct, positive correlation to poor outcomes for teenagers, including truancy, poor physical health, and a higher likelihood of risky behaviors like smoking or excessive drinking.

  1. Authoritative Parenting

Not to be confused with authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting tends to strike a healthy balance between the boundaries and consequences of the authoritarian parent and the warmth and nurturing of the permissive parent. Authoritative parents communicate openly with their kids. They set clear limits and boundaries, but tend to take their child’s needs and thoughts into account when appropriate. They allow their kids to experience natural consequences as learning opportunities and are generally responsive and attentive to their needs.

Authoritative parenting is broadly considered to be the style with the highest likelihood for positive child outcomes, compared to the research-based negative outcomes associated with the other three we’ve discussed here. Studies have found that children raised with at least one authoritative parent are more likely to be independent and socially competent and to do well in school. 

Getting Support With Parenting An Adolescent

Parenting can be a challenging undertaking, especially once your child reaches adolescence. That’s why it’s not unusual for parents to turn to a mental health professional for support along the way. A therapist can offer a nonjudgmental listening ear so you can express your emotions freely and work through them together. They can help you untangle any complicated feelings about your own upbringing, help you polish your communication or conflict-resolution skills, assist you in identifying elements of your own parenting style that you may want to change or improve, and more.

While some parents choose to seek in-person therapy for the challenges they may be facing, others prefer to seek treatment online. Research suggests that both formats offer similar benefits, so some busy parents choose virtual therapy for its accessibility and ease of scheduling. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with from the comfort of your own home via phone, video call, and/or online chat. They can offer the support all parents may need when guiding their child through the often-tumultuous years of adolescence.

Takeaway

While the styles of most parents don’t fit neatly into one of the four types, aiming to display more traits from the authoritative parenting type can result in better outcomes for your adolescent. For additional support, speaking with a therapist may be helpful.

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