What Is Permissive Parenting? Definition, Pros, And Cons

Updated July 19, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Becoming a parent is simultaneously the best thing you'll ever do and the most terrifying thing you'll ever do. Although the responsibility of holding a child's life in your hands is a wonderful one, it is also filled with the potential to make mistakes, hurt the person you love, and come out the other side more confused than ever. So what do you do?

Is Your Family Adjusting To Permissive Parenting?

Many parents, upon finding they are expecting, immediately turn to the wisdom of parenting books, magazines, and articles, in the hope that they will stumble upon seeds of wisdom so magnificent that they will be able to raise healthy, well-rounded children in a world filled with chaos and sub-par parenting. Much of this is done with the best possible intentions in mind: parents want to be the best they can be for their children, and frequently second-guess their parenting instincts, or give way to feelings of frustration and anger brought on by the confusion and overwhelm inherent to being a parent. A great way to get support as a parent is through online therapy services that will coach you through building a meaningful relationship with your child while keeping your mental wellbeing in mind.

There are innumerable types of parenting approaches, some of them far closer to indulgent parenting than anything else, some of them far closer to drill sergeants than anything else. What, then, is the best form of parenting? Is it this so-called "permissive parenting?" Baumrind's 4 styles offer insight into the world of parenting and all of its pitfalls.

Is Permissive Parenting The Only Parenting Style?

The four parenting styles defined by Diana Baumrind, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, describe a set of parenting techniques commonly come across in Baumrind's practice. Baumrind developed the four parenting styles in the 1960s. These parenting styles include authoritarian, authoritative, uninvolved, and permissive parenting. Each of the four styles is rated according to two measures: warmth and demanding behavior. The four styles demonstrate the different marriages of each of these measures.

Baumrind believed that a parenting style was a powerful determiner of whether or not a child grew up to succeed in life. She believed that measuring different types of parenting would provide keys to the best form of parenting, and would help families discover how to effectively interact with one another to create peace and comfort within the family home. Her ideas were further expounded upon and broadened twenty years later, by a team of psychologists, who changed what was previously called "neglectful" parenting to what is now known as "uninvolved" parenting. Each of these parenting styles has its drawbacks and lures for families.

What Is Permissive Parenting And Should I Use Permissive Parenting?

Permissive parenting is just what its name suggests: a manner of parenting in which permission is far more common than anything else. It is characterized by loose boundaries and an inability to say "no." Households which use this style might have rules, but fail or struggle to enforce them. The parents are likely to want to be their child's friend, versus acting as a consistent authority figure. Children might dictate bedtimes and family trips, among other things, and parents may suffer from exhaustion, burnout, and resentment as a result.

Children from households of permissive parenting often exhibit distinct behaviors, including poor self-control, egocentricity, difficulty in relationships, and difficulty adhering to expected rules and norms. Because of their parenting, these children might experience anxiety and an inflated sense of self, and may have trouble in school and other situations where adherence to strict rules is mandated.

Although permissive parenting is often depicted as ideal in television shows, movies, and other forms of media, in practice, it is detrimental to both parents and children. Parents engaged in permissive parenting often become burnt out and may even grow to resent their children, as their children may become entitled and demanding of them. Children are also harmed in this version of parenting, as they may not receive the safety and confidence that comes from having clearly-outlined boundaries and rules.

Benefits Of Each Of The 4 Parenting Styles

Each of the four parenting styles has benefits for both parents and children, though these benefits are not always healthy. Children, for instance, might derive immense pleasure through a parenting style that is not healthy, while parents might find satisfaction in engaging a style that is far too dictatorial. Benefits include pleasure, but do not necessarily indicate that the parenting style itself is beneficial to either party.

Is Your Family Adjusting To Permissive Parenting?

Authoritarian Parenting

The first of the four parenting styles is Authoritarian parenting, which ranks high on demanding behavior and low on responsiveness. In contrast to permissive parenting, authoritarian parents place high demands on children while failing to respond effectively and consistently to children's wants and needs. This is the style of parenting most often associated with military-like demands and precision and is arguably one of the more common parenting styles employed today. The parental benefits of this style are clear: many children respond to the fear and uncertainty inherent in this form of parenting, and respond to demands with prompt obedience and do not act out. These are both of value to many parents who choose to enlist this style, though few children experience benefits.

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting is the next style and, unlike permissive parenting, is known for having high demands. This form of parenting places substantial expectations on children, while also listening closely to what children want and need, to create a demanding, but the healthy environment for children. Authoritative parents usually experience more satisfaction in their parenting efforts, as they cannot only see the results of their demands but also enjoy a close relationship with their children, with open lines of communication.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting is the next style and is known for its low demands and easy permission. This parenting means that children are given few demands, but are given plenty of opportunities for expression and offering input. Many children find this form of parenting initially enjoyable, as parents do not place a lot of demands on them, and they are largely able to get their way. Parents might also experience initial benefits, as they can have more of a friendly parent-child relationship than in any of the other styles.

Uninvolved Parenting

Uninvolved parenting marries low demands and low responsiveness. The possible benefit of this option for parents is the ability to treat children as though they have taken a backseat, with parenting being a low priority. Children might also initially feel freedom or satisfaction through being able to do whatever they want to, with little intervention, consequence, or interference.

Drawbacks Of The 4 Styles: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Uninvolved, And Permissive Parenting

Each of the parenting styles has its unique drawbacks.

Authoritarian parenting can place far too many demands on children, which can leave children feeling overwhelmed and unloved. These children may grow up with large-scale ambition, but this ambition may be rooted in feelings of fear and inadequacy, and a deep-seated belief that they are not good enough. Parents who engage this style might also suffer, as constantly making demands and keeping up strict behavior requirements can grow tiring for the parent and, if children do not meet the demands, can result in large amounts of anger and resentment.

Authoritative parenting, like permissive parenting, may be considered too lax by some. It can also be difficult, as it requires parents to invest time and energy not just in the demands they place, but also in the experiences and needs of their children. Keeping a proper balance in this form of parenting can prove difficult for the whole family. 

Permissive parenting is likely to demonstrate issues for parents and children both, as parents can begin to feel resentful of children making a lot of demands and never giving back, while children may begin to resent parents for not creating a clearer delineation between "parent" and "child," and may even feel like they step into the role of parent sometimes. These types of relationships can also have a negative impact on children later in life, creating feelings of anxiety and uncertainty about relationships and boundaries.

Uninvolved parenting is likely to have the greatest number of drawbacks. Parents who are not involved in their children's lives are more likely to be distant from their children later in life and might have to witness their children making unwise choices and following similar behavioral patterns to their own. This is especially difficult in cases where uninvolved parenting comes as a direct result of substance abuse or another form of addiction that causes adults to check out of their parenting responsibilities, essentially. Children with uninvolved parents often grow up to have dysfunctional relationships and are more likely to have anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

Which Of The 4 Styles Of Parenting Is Best?

Authoritative parenting is typically considered the ideal parenting style of the four types. This type of parenting, unlike permissive parenting, encourages setting boundaries and encouraging children to do and be their best but also takes children's feelings and experiences into account. Authoritative parenting delineates the parent's role and the child's role while making room for open, clear communication to facilitate an appropriate adult-child relationship and encourage decision-making and confidence in children well into adulthood.

Positive Parenting And Outcomes

Implementing positive parenting techniques can be difficult, particularly if they are being implemented after engaging ineffective or destructive techniques beforehand, such as permissive parenting. There is no reason to avoid implementing a better parenting approach, however, as long as you step into your new role with patience, and the reasonable expectation that creating new habits takes time and a significant amount of effort.

If you find yourself engaging a new parenting technique and you are experiencing difficulty adjusting, or your child is experiencing difficulty adjusting, speaking with a qualified mental health professional can help; some therapists offer family therapies and parent therapies designed to create more effective family dynamics and communication styles, in order to provide more stability and acceptance within family structures. If engaging a new parenting technique seems daunting, or is a source of anxiety, know this: it will be difficult. Parenting is difficult. But with perseverance, determination, and-if needed-a little bit of help, you and your family can adopt a new way of looking at life and each other, and improve your parent-child relationships step by step.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.