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Guide to 9 Different Parenting Styles

This Research-Backed Guide to the 9 Most Common Parenting Styles Will Save You — We Swear

If parenting is one of the most important jobs a person can have, then why isn't there a user's manual? Well, in fact, there are thousands. For decades, clinical psychologists, researchers, pediatricians, and developmental experts have been authoring books purporting to offer the definitive guide to parenting. But, just like every family is different and has unique needs, each child-raising philosophy has benefits and challenges that make it ideal for one parent and a nonstarter for another.

And although parents by no means need to adopt a specific style verbatim, in order to figure out how you plan to raise your children, it's helpful to understand their nuances. We've accounted for the hundreds of parenting styles and culled them down to the nine most ubiquitous. For better or worse, these are the most commonly referenced ones out there today. From classic methods to buzzy alternatives, read on so that you can better understand what each one offers — and which one suits your personality and goals best.

1. Tiger Parenting

What it is: This extreme parenting style was popularized by a Yale Law School professor's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which Amy Chua explains how many parents (think "stage moms," for instance) put intense pressure on their children to attain high levels of achievement and success – particularly in academics – above all else. This tough-love approach often means kids are discouraged from social activities like playdates that don't align with the competitive goals their parents have set.

Why parents do it: Anecdotally, parents who adopt this authoritarian approach are also highly involved in their children's upbringing. They make the final call on extracurricular activities and course work. By running such a tight ship, they may very well see results, with children who attain the intellectual and career goals they've set out for them.

What research says: Several studies have disproven the merits of this disciplinarian approach. According to results published in the Developmental Psychologist in 2013, children with stereotypical "tiger parents" actually had a lower GPA than those with supportive parents, and harsh parenting leads to the worst developmental outcomes among kids.

2. Lawnmower Parenting

What it is: One of the newest forms of parenting, the term went viral in 2018 after a teacher wrote an essay condemning parental meddling. Like the gardening tool they are named after, lawnmower parents cut down any obstacle that could stand in their child's way and go to great length to prevent their child from having to face adversity or, worse, failure.

Why parents do it: This approach is certainly well intended as it stems from a desire to not see your child struggle. Often, parents with the finances and resources to solve problems – for example, with school admissions or placement on teams – feel it is their responsibility as parents to do so, whether their child has earned it or not.

What research says: No empirical evidence exists yet, but a key risk in raising kids using this bulldozer-like philosophy is that when they eventually do encounter conflict, they won't be equipped with how to handle it. Sources have warned that by not having developed proper coping mechanisms, these children – once adults – are at greater risk of anxiety, depression, or self-destructive behavior like addiction.

3. Helicopter Parenting

What it is: In the 1980s, when more women began to enter the workforce and more kids went to daycare, parents eager to provide their children with free play ended up scheduling it. The "playdate" was formed and what was once unsupervised play begun to be observed – to the point that leaving kids alone to explore became taboo. These helicopter parents, as they were eventually coined, hovered around their children in order to protect them from any perceived harm.

Why parents do it: It certainly comes from a place of love: what begins as baby-proofing their houses often leads to these hoverers becoming too involved in their kids' lives with the intent of keeping them safe, promoting their self-esteem, and helping them succeed. Technology – including GPS-enabled cell phones, online grades, and parental controls on devices – has certainly helped enable this method.

What research says: Common complaints with the generation of millennials who were first raised under this style is that they are narcissistic, overindulged, and entitled. Studies also suggest similar negative effects as those kids raised by lawnmower parents. What's more, researchers found that moms who practice such overprotective parenting have worse mental health — they are "less happy and more stressed" than those who are more easygoing.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Evan Kheraj

4. Authoritative Parenting

What it is: Based on extensive observation and analysis throughout the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind identified three different overall parenting styles — authoritarian parents who are strict and demand obedience, permissive parents who provide few rules so as not to upset their children, and authoritative parents who are a blend of the previous two styles. This latter approach has been deemed the most beneficial and an overall gold standard in raising kids.

Why parents do it: Instead of employing a parent-knows-best culture or one in which the kids run the show, this style is popular for allowing parents to have the best of both worlds. They're parents first, friends second. They are firm but warm, and although they hold high expectations, they are quick to praise.

What research says: For more than 25 years, authoritative parenting has been consistently linked to the most positive outcomes in several studies. And according to Baumrind's research, this style produces children with lower delinquency, less mental illness, better social skills, and higher academic achievement.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Evan Kheraj

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5. Lighthouse Parenting

What it is: Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg – a well-known physician with a focus on adolescent development – trademarked this term in his research-backed book Raising Kids to Thrive and called on parents to be metaphorical lighthouses for their children, visible from the shore line as a stable light amidst an ever-changing tide. His philosophy aims to answer a tough parenting question: how does one give their child the unconditional love they need to thrive while also holding them to high expectations? For lighthouse parents, it's all about knowing when to let kids ride the waves and when to help them before they crash into the rocks.

Why parents do it: This style is similar to hands-off free-range parenting, yet many parents prefer it because it offers more of a healthy balance of independence with dependence and of protection with trust. It's ideal for parents who want to be available for guidance but have no interest in steering the boat.

What research says: The positive effects of lighthouse parenting have been found across kids — particularly teens — who differ by race, gender, family income, and parents' education. This means that families from diverse backgrounds experience similar benefits. Ginsburg also tapped into the insights of 500 teens from across the nation for his book and their varied perspectives often connect on the benefits of this approach.

6. Attachment Parenting

What it is: Although the phrase was popularized by well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears in the 1980s when he published what many consider to be the attachment parenting bible, The Baby Book, the idea behind this child-led approach was first introduced way back in the 1940s by Dr. Benjamin Spock. He believed that parents, particularly mothers, were hardwired to care for their baby, and if they tapped into these natural instincts, they'd be attuned to what their baby needed. This resulted in the more modern interpretation of literal physical attachment – from birth-bonding to babywearing to cosleeping to on-demand breastfeeding – with a goal toward fostering a secure emotional connection.

Why parents do it: Proponents of attachment parenting believe this nurturing style is the ideal way to raise secure, empathetic children. Simply put, many new parents themselves enjoy the bond they achieve with their newborn by following the key components of the practice; it's as beneficial to the parent to, say, respond to early signs of distress versus employing a "cry it out" method.

What research says: Although there's little disputing that behaviors like breastfeeding and bed-sharing can foster secure attachments, it doesn't mean that they are guaranteed to do so. In fact, there is no scientific evidence that they are predictive of stronger bonds. Often, a tight attachment – with parent and child together all the time – can breed anxieties. There's also a contingency of critics who believe the style is anti-feminist and conflates women's role with motherhood.

7. Slow Parenting

What it is: In an era where overscheduling is the norm, the concept of slow parenting is quickly becoming an antidote. By removing unnecessary stimulants – invasive screens and devices, for starters – and by declining unnecessary commitments in the lives of their children, the goal is to give them the time and space to recharge and pursue more authentic interests. By all intents and purposes, the "slow movement" prioritizes downtime, living in the moment, and boredom.

Why parents do it: This slowed-down approach is an obvious reaction to those parents who feel immense, frenzied pressure to give their kids the "perfect childhood" and who are more vulnerable to competition (think flash cards for babies) and an abundance of choice. By opting out of that high-stakes lifestyle that prioritizes quantity (ahem, back-to-back birthday parties) over enjoyable quality family time, parents can sit back and allow their kids to flourish. Plus, it's a financial win: why enroll your child in expensive art classes when a box of crayons and a blank sheet of paper will do just fine?

What research says: Critics balk that the slow parenting trend means parents are not providing as many learning opportunities for their children. However, a study published in the Journal of School Health found a direct correlation between perceived levels of stress among family members and kids' desire for more free time. In fact, the research notes that kids experience less activity-related stress when they plan their schedules with their parents and do not overcommit.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Evan Kheraj

8. Gentle Parenting

What it is: Gentle parenting is a peaceful and positive approach to parenting characterized by empathy, respect, and understanding. It promotes a relationship with your child based on willingness and choices rather than rules or demands made by a parent. In fact, proponents believe that fewer rules that focus on what actually matters means children are more capable of sticking to them.

Why parents do it: Many parents who were raised with a punishment-based approach to discipline have sought an alternative approach with their own kids, and this method treats children more as equals. In place of instilling fear, parents offer understanding. They aim to better acknowledge why, for example, a child acted out or exhibited negative behavior. Then they work with their child to change it positively or, more difficult, accept what cannot be changed.

What research says: Similar to authoritative parenting, research shows that providing children with autonomy and empathy will help them developmentally. However, despite boundary setting being a key principle, for many, this gentle approach leads to permissive parenting, in which boundaries are lax and kids get away with more than they should.

9. Free-Range Parenting

What it is: The term was made famous by a case of "neglect" in which a mom allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway alone. In stark contrast to the more overbearing styles out there, free-range parenting takes a hands-off approach in order to raise self-reliant children who aren't needlessly sheltered. By trusting kids' autonomy, these parents allow them to have more age-appropriate freedoms. It involves trial-and-error and risk-taking, but the goal is that their well-deserved independence will set them up for success as they grow up.

Why parents do it: Many fans of free-range parenting are nostalgic for simpler times, when letting a kid walk to school on their own or play at the park unsupervised wasn't considered gross negligence. They consider this approach more of a rights movement, in that they want to reclaim their children's right to take part in the world. What's more, most parents who follow this style are pro-safety, not against it.

What research says: The main concerns surrounding free-range parenting are legal ones. In many states, there are laws and restrictions surrounding what minors are allowed to do unsupervised. Still, children who are afforded this type of freedom are better able to handle mistakes and more likely to take responsibility for their actions. It's also purported to lead to happier adults.

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