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

By Marie Miguel|Updated May 13, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."-Mark Twain

Do you suddenly feel like you're arguing with your child constantly about everything from household rules to why the sky is blue? Do you feel like someone has kidnapped your precious small child to replace him with a sulky teen? Not to worry; it's not a demon possession or an alien invasion. It's only the onset of adolescence.

Few things can make us question our skills and values as a parent like adolescence. Much like the terrible twos, your child still needs your help but pushes it away at the same time. But it's worse than the terrible twos because she no longer thinks of her parents as the authority on everything. Instead, she rejects your convictions in her efforts to build ideas and opinions of her own. What this means, at least for now, is that nothing you say will be correct in her mind until, oh, maybe the day she has teenaged children of her own.

As with any other stage of parenting, there is no one right way to navigate the teen years. Every child is different, and every family is different. Each parent has to find strategies that work for the specific dynamics and personalities involved. But some parenting styles have been proven to have better results than others when it comes to parenting adolescents. And you will probably be relieved to know that these are not so very different from the parenting styles that are recommended at other stages of development. However, the way you carry them out may have to change a bit as you adapt to your child's changing needs.

Here is a breakdown of different parenting styles as they relate to what your adolescent needs from you.

What Teens Need From Their Parents

"The child supplies the power, but the parents have to do the steering." -Benjamin Spock

Even though your child suddenly seems like a foreign species, his needs are not so very different from what they have always been.

He still needs guidance, limits, consequences, support, and above all, your unconditional love.

As he moves closer to adulthood, providing all of the above can become more challenging, but they are as important as ever.

Here are some specific things you can do to parent your teen effectively.

  • Give lots of praise and positive feedback. Your child will never let on how much she craves it, but your genuine praise still means a lot to her. Your regard is an essential component of the positive self-image that she is working to build at this stage of her life and helps her have the confidence that she can succeed.
  • Have an honest discussion about his sexuality. Your teen's changing body will be a source of confusion and possibly anxiety. Be sure to talk with your teen about these changes so that he knows why they are happening and what to expect.
  • Be a good listener. You will be tempted to share your own experience by lecturing, but try to listen to your teen instead. She needs to feel that you are a non-judgmental "open ear," so make sure that she knows her voice is heard and valued. This keeps an open dialogue between you so that she can come to you with any concerns.
  • Be clear and consistent in enforcing limits. Now that your child is almost an adult, you may think it's a good time to let down your guard and treat him as a friend instead of as your child, but this is a mistake. While on the surface your child may enjoy having that freedom, deep down he still craves parental limits and boundaries to keep him safe. Remember: your child has many friends but only one mother or father.
  • Teach her the practical tasks of "adulting." Your child will feel more self-confident if she knows she can handle things like cooking, laundry, managing her finances, and changing a tire. Give her plenty of coaching on tasks that help her feel more independent.

Adolescence is a time which challenges parents to think about their parenting styles. It may be that a practice which has always worked for you in the past is no longer effective. In fact, you may have to abandon one favored parenting style for another. This can be a tough adjustment for everyone.

To understand this better, let's take a look at the four parenting styles, specifically about adolescence.

The Four Parenting Styles

"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If your child is a teenager, then you have already been a parent long enough to get an idea of what kind of parent you are. Maybe you have a lot of rules; maybe you have none. Maybe you're the type of parent who supervises your children every moment, or perhaps you're more the "free range" type. Much of your parenting is determined by your personality, your relationship with your child, and your upbringing.

You could be raising your children very differently from your next-door neighbor…but that doesn't mean that one of you is right and the other is wrong.

However, most parenting styles can be categorized as belonging to one of four specific types. And the research is pretty clear that some types are more effective than others for children of any age.

Authoritarian Parenting

This is an "my way or the highway" type of parenting, in which rules are made without any input from family members. These rules are in place "because I said so," with no explanation and no room for discussion.

Authoritarian parents do not display much warmth or affection to their children. Instead, they use harsh punishments to ensure that children will comply with their wishes out of fear.

If you are parenting teens, there is some benefit to this parenting style, as it gives them the security of clear limits and boundaries.

The problem is that with no avenue for open dialogue between you and your teen, he won't feel comfortable talking to you about his concerns. You may find yourself in the scary position of having no idea what is going on in the life of your teen…and this is a bad place to be.

The other problem with this parenting style is that it does not allow your teen to develop the self-esteem and self-confidence she will need to function as an adult. Because they do not receive praise or positive feedback, children of authoritarian parents grow up with feelings of fear and inadequacy which make the transition to adulthood even rockier.

Permissive Parenting

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is permissive or indulgent parenting. On the surface, these parents seem great! They are warm, nurturing, involved, and loving. In short, these are the kinds of parents every kid dreams of.

But kids need more than nurturing. They also need structure and discipline. While children enjoy the complete freedom that comes with an absence of rules, deep inside, they crave adult boundaries to keep them safe.

Permissive parents want to be their child's friend and to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, without discipline and structure, children of permissive parents don't have the opportunity to learn self-control. They grow up with the expectation of immediate gratification of their wishes, and this can bring them a lot of pain as they enter the teen years. They tend to struggle in school and to have social problems. One study found that the children of permissive parents are three times more likely to engage in underage alcohol consumption as teens.

Neglectful Parenting

It is commonly agreed that neglectful or uninvolved parenting is the most damaging parenting style to children of any age.

The harmful consequences of this type of parenting are so immediate that the help of a counselor is indicated to assist these parents.

Neglectful parents do not attend to their child's physical and emotional needs. They do not communicate with their children or listen to them. The home environment may even feel unsafe.

When addressing the problem of parental neglect, we tend to focus on the needs of younger children. We wrongly assume that teenagers are self-sufficient and thus do not suffer from neglectful parenting to the degree that younger children do.

However, this couldn't be further from the truth.

One study found that parental neglect had a direct positive correlation to poor outcomes for teens, including truancy, bad physical health, and risky behaviors like smoking or excessive drinking.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the harmful effects of neglectful parenting, don't hesitate to reach out to one of our trained therapists at Better Help. Often, parents simply need some coaching and education to get on track with a parenting style that's healthier for everyone.

Authoritative Parenting

While there are some similarities, this style is not to be confused with "authoritarian" parenting, which we discussed earlier.

Authoritative parenting strikes a healthy balance between the boundaries and consequences of the authoritarian parent and the warmth and nurturing of the permissive parent.

In this style, rules are developed together as a family. Children have input in the family rules, and they understand the reasons for them. Consequences are administered lovingly but consistently.

Also, authoritative parents openly show affection for their children and are generous in praising them when they do something well. This helps the child to build his self-esteem and confidence.

The research consistently shows that authoritative parenting is the most beneficial, with the best results.

Adolescents benefit the most from this parenting style. They feel empowered when they are given a voice in decision-making. This parenting style allows them the freedom to make their own choices but also provides the necessary learning experience of suffering the consequences of these choices. That process helps them develop the problem-solving skills that they will need in adulthood.

Also, teens benefit from an open door of communication with their parents. Authoritative parenting allows them an authority figure who is a safe listening ear, something that is badly needed as they navigate the uncharted waters of near-adulthood.

What is your parenting style? No matter where you fall within the four parenting styles, you can become the parent that your teen needs. And the rewards are great.

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