Key Components of Good Parenting

While the relationships between adolescents and their parents are changing, parents still have a tremendous influence on their child’s behavior. Research into which parenting behaviors tend to be critical components of good parenting has revealed connection, appropriate autonomy, and parental regulation to be fundamental (Barber, 1997).


Parents often become less involved in the lives of their children as they enter the middle grades. However, adolescents still need to maintain a positive connection with their caregivers. Parents maintain connections with their teens by showing love and positive affect, listening and demonstrating empathetic understanding, building trust, showing acceptance, and giving approval. A good relationship with caring adults is one of the best safeguards an adolescent has as they develop.

There are a great variety of attitudes, opinions, and values, which can affect how parents choose to raise their children. Across these differences, however, research has shown that being effective parents involves the following qualities:

  • Show love. Adolescents need adults who are there for them—people who connect with them, communicate with them, spend time with them, and show a genuine interest in them. This attention is how they learn to care for and love others.
  • Listen. To listen means to avoid interrupting and it means to pay close attention. Listening is best done in a quiet place with no distractions. It is hard to listen carefully if the parent is also trying to cook dinner or watch television. Often just talking with children about a problem or an issue helps to clarify things. Sometimes the less advice that the parents offer, the more teens may ask for it. Listening can also be the best way to uncover a more serious problem that requires attention.
  • Provide support. Adolescents need support as they struggle with problems that may seem unimportant to their parents and families. They need praise when they have done their best. They need encouragement to develop interests and personal characteristics.
  • Show respect. Adolescents can be difficult, rebellious, outrageous, and even mean-spirted. Despite this, teens need to be treated with respect. Modeling respect teaches adolescents appropriate behavior and reinforces unconditional love—parents may not always love their child’s behavior, but they always love their child. Parents can demonstrate respect by recognizing and appreciating their teen’s differences and treating them as an individual. Respect also requires compassion and empathy. Try to see things from their point of view and to consider their needs and feelings.
  • Talk over differences. Communication breaks down for some parents because they find it hard to manage differences with their child. Differences of opinion are easier to manage when we recognize that these differences can provide meaningful opportunities for us to rethink our positions and to negotiate, a skill that is valuable for adolescents to develop. When differences arise, parents should communicate concerns firmly but calmly and explain their position to help their teen understand the reasoning. Responding too strongly can lead to yelling and screaming, and it can shut down the conversation. At a time when they are already judging themselves critically, adolescents make themselves vulnerable when they open up to their parents. We know that the best way to encourage a behavior is to reward it. If parents are critical when their teenager talks to them, what the teen learns is that their openness gets punished rather than rewarded.
  • Be a role model. Adolescents need strong role models. Adults should live the behavior and values that they hope their child will develop. When parents set high standards for themself and treat others with kindness and respect, the child stands a better chance of following their example. As adolescents explore possibilities of who they may become, they look to their parents, peers, well-known personalities, and others to define who they may become.


Emotional autonomy is a psychological separation from one’s caregivers. It includes a progressive decrease in dependency on their caregivers, individualization, parental de-idealization, and perceiving one’s parents as people (Steinberg & Silberberg, 1986). Despite previous thinking, this is not meant to be the ‘storm and stress’ of adolescent detachment from their family; instead, it is a peaceful process of becoming an individual. Teens are not detaching from their caregivers, but changing their childhood perceptions and dependencies on them. Adolescents will de-idolize their parents and thinking of them more as people.

While the process of developing emotional autonomy is a normal one that usually adaptive in the long-run, it can be distressing at the time. Teens may be experiencing a loss as they lose these childhood conceptualizations of the parents (Hill & Holmbeck, 1986). However, in the end, this emotional distance will allow adolescents to rely more on themselves and develop independence.

Behavioral autonomy, also called decisional autonomy, is the ability to make decisions about one’s behavior (Bosma et al., 1996). Emotional autonomy and behavioral autonomy are highly correlated. As teens become more emotionally autonomous, they desire to make more of their own decisions. With maturation comes increased emotional and behavioral autonomy. However, too much behavioral autonomy too early has been associated with poor adjustment in young teens. Behavioral autonomy in early adolescence has been found to result in higher risk for deviance and poor academic performance (Beyers & Goossens, 1999). Often, parents wonder how much autonomy to allow their teen and at what age.

How Much Independence and When?

Some parents allow too much of the wrong kind of freedom, or they offer freedom before the adolescent is ready to accept it. Other parents cling too tightly, denying young teens both the responsibilities they require to develop maturity and the opportunities they need to make choices and accept their consequences.

Research tells us that adolescents do best when they remain closely connected to their parents but at the same time are allowed to have their own points of view and even to disagree with their parents. Here are some tips to help balance closeness and independence:

  • Set limits. All children sometimes resist limits, but they want them, and they need them. In a world that can seem too hectic for adults and adolescents alike, limits provide security. Often, adolescents whose parents do not set limits feel unloved. Setting limits is most effective when it begins early. It is harder, but not impossible, to establish limits during early adolescence.
  • Be clear. Most teens respond best to specific instructions, which are repeated regularly. Do not give vague requests, like, "I want your room clean.” Instead, be specific about what is expected and when.
  • Give reasonable choices. Choices make teens more open to guidance. For example, establishing the rule that homework must be done before bed, but allowing the teen to decide when they will do it. Alternatively, when denying a teen something that they want to do, suggest an acceptable alternative choice.
  • Be open to negotiation. As adolescents get older, rules may become more flexible and open to negotiation. Listen to teens’ concerns when discussing chores, curfews, access to the car, and other rules and privileges. By discussing guidelines with teens, parents can foster their child’s ability to think independently, compromise, and negotiate agreements—all-important life skills.
  • Grant independence in stages. The more mature and responsible a teen's behavior is, the more privileges parents can grant. For example, allow a young teen to pick out new sneakers within a specific price range. Later, teens may be able to manage their school clothes shopping with a given budget, but the parent will approve purchases before removing the tags. Eventually, teens can manage their clothing allowance without supervision.
  • Health and safety come first. A crucial responsibility as a parent is to protect their child's health and safety. The child needs to know that it is love for them that requires parents to veto activities and choices that threaten either of these. Let the child know what things threaten her health and safety—and often the health and safety of others—and be firm. This decision may be an area of disagreement, as adolescents often believe that nothing bad will happen to them. At the same time that they feel that everything they experience is new and unique (see Elkind’s Personal Fable).
  • Say no to choices that cut off future options. Choose battles carefully. Not all things are worth an argument. Too many battles may desensitize teens to when parents must insist that the answer is “No,” such as health and safety issues, or when the choice can cut off future options for them. Teens may have a growing sense of the future, but they still lack the experiences required to fully understand how a decision they make today can affect them tomorrow. Talk to teens about the lifelong consequences of the choices they make. Help them understand there are good and bad decisions and that knowing one from the other can make all the difference in their lives.
  • Guide, but resist the temptation to control. It is important to strike the right balance between laying down the law and allowing too much freedom. With most teens, it is easiest to maintain this balance by guiding but not controlling. Teens need opportunities to explore different roles, try on new personalities, and experiment. They need to learn that choices have consequences. That means making some mistakes and accepting the results. Nevertheless, parents need to provide guidance so that teens avoid making too many poor choices. Parents can guide by being a good listener and by asking questions that help the teen to think about the results of her actions. The fine line between guiding and controlling may be different for different children. Some children, whether they are 7 or 17, need firmer guidance and fewer privileges than do other children at the same age.
  • Let kids make mistakes. We want our children to grow into adults who can solve problems and make good choices. These abilities are a critical part of being independent. To develop these abilities, however, teens, on occasion, need to fail, provided the stakes are not too high, and no one's health or safety is at risk. Making mistakes also allows teens to learn one critical skill—how to bounce back. It is hard for a child to learn how to pick himself up and start over if his parents always rescue him from difficulties.
  • Make actions have consequences. Consequences are a result of choices and how people evaluate their choices and decision-making processes. Parents can help children learn to follow the rules, respect authority, and understand good decision-making by providing consequences. If a consequence is threatened or expected, it is critical to follow through. When adults do not follow through on consequences, they lose credibility with the child. However, the punishment should fit the crime. Overly punitive consequences may undermine the lesson that the parents hoped to teach because the child focuses on the consequence more than their behavior.

Despite what we often hear and read, adolescents look to their parents first and foremost in shaping their lives. When it comes to morals and ethics, political beliefs, and religion, teenagers almost always have more in common with their parents than their parents believe. Parents should look beyond the surface, beyond the specific behaviors to who the teen is becoming. Teenagers may want to dye her hair purple and pierce most parts of her body, but these expressions may be independent of their sense of who they are and who they will become. At the same time that many teens’ behaviors are ultimately harmless, some of them may be not only harmful but also deadly.

Parents need to talk to their children and make it clear that many of the significant threats to their future health and happiness are not a matter of chance, but are a matter of choice—choices like drinking and driving, smoking, drugs, sexual activity, and dropping out of school. Research tells us that adolescents who engage in one risky behavior are more likely to participate in others. Hence, parents need to be front and center, talking to their children about the potentially deadly consequences of opening that Pandora's box.


Effective parents regulate their child’s behavior through supervision, appropriate limits, and discipline. Regulation teaches children self-control and respect for the rules. Regulation presents differently depending on parenting style.

We will explore two models of parenting styles. Keep in mind that most parents do not follow any model completely. Real people tend to fall somewhere in between these styles. Moreover, sometimes, parenting styles change from one child to the next or in times when the parent has more or less time and energy for parenting. Parenting styles can also be affected by concerns the parent has in other areas of their life. For example, parenting styles tend to become more authoritarian when parents are tired and perhaps more authoritative when they are more energetic. Sometimes parents seem to change their parenting approach when others are around, maybe because they become more self-conscious as parents or are concerned with giving others the impression that they are a “tough” parent or an “easy-going” parent. Of course, parenting styles may reflect the type of parenting someone saw modeled while growing up.

Baumrind’s Parenting Styles

Baumrind (1971) offers a model of parenting that includes three styles. In 1983, Maccoby and Martin modified this model, and it has become one of the most commonly referenced models for describing patterns of parenting. The current model is comprised of two components of parenting: the parent’s responsiveness and the parent’s demandingness. Responsiveness is the connection that the parent facilitates through love, affection, warmth, and support. Unresponsive parents may ignore a child’s need for connection or even reject the child. Demandingness is the parent’s control and management of the child’s behavior; this includes setting expectations, limits, and enforcing consequences. The combination of these two parenting behaviors defines the parenting style.

Figure 10.2.1. Baumrind’s parenting styles.

The first, the uninvolved (or neglectful) parenting style. These parents are low on responsiveness and often disengaged from their children. They are also low on demandingness, with little control over their children’s behavior. As a result, their children can be withdrawn, non-compliant, aggressive, and have insecure attachments to others. They suffer in school and in their relationships with their peers (Gecas & Self, 1991).

The permissive parent is highly responsive but lacks control. These parents are warm and communicative but provide little structure for their children. They may act as a friend to their child rather than an authority figure. Children are allowed to make their own rules and determine their activities.  Children may fail to learn self-discipline and be relatively immature. They have low social competence and may feel somewhat insecure because they do not know the limits. These children may also be demanding, rebellious, and aggressive.

The authoritarian parent is low on responsiveness and high on demandingness. This parent makes the rules, and the children are expected to be obedient. Baumrind suggests that authoritarian parents tend to place maturity demands on their children that are unreasonably high and tend to be aloof and distant. Consequently, children reared in this way may fear rather than respect their parents and, because their parents do not allow discussion, may take out their frustrations on safer targets – perhaps as bullies toward peers. These children tend to have lower self-control and are less independent. They also may be more aggressive, resistant to correction, or anxious.

Finally, the authoritative parent is responsive and reasonably in control. Parents allow negotiation where appropriate and discipline matches the severity of the offense. As a result, their children are friendly, socially competent, confident, self-reliant, cooperative, successful, and happy (Chao, 2001; Stewart and Bond, 2002).

Video 10.2.1. Baumrind's Parenting Styles explains the differences between parenting styles and the potential consequences on child behavior.

Lemasters and Defrain’s Parenting Model

Lemasters and Defrain (1989) offered yet another model of parenting. This model is interesting because it looks more closely at the motivations of the parent and suggests that parenting styles are often designed to meet the psychological needs of the parent rather than the developmental needs of the child.

The martyr is a parent who will do anything for the child, even tasks that the child should do for himself or herself. All of the good deeds performed for the child, in the name of being a “good parent,” may be used later should the parent want to gain compliance from the child. If a child goes against the parent’s wishes, the parent can remind the child of all of the times the parent helped the child and evoke a feeling of guilt so that the child will do what the parent wants. The child learns to be dependent and manipulative as a result.

The pal is like the permissive parent described in Baumrind’s model above. The pal wants to be the child’s friend. Perhaps the parent is lonely, or perhaps the parent is trying to win a popularity contest against an ex-spouse. Pals let children do what they want and focus most on being entertaining and fun. They set few limitations. Consequently, the child may have little self-discipline and may try to test limits with others.

The police officer/drill sergeant style of parenting is similar to the authoritarian parent described above. The parent focuses primarily on making sure that the child is obedient and that the parent has full control of the child. Sometimes this can be taken to extremes by giving the child tasks that are really designed to check on their level of obedience. For example, the parent may require that the child fold the clothes and place items back in the drawer in a particular way. If not, the child might be scolded or punished for not doing things “right.” This type of parent has a very difficult time allowing the child to grow and learn to make decisions independently. Furthermore, the child may have much resentment toward the parent that is displaced on others.

The teacher-counselor parent is one who pays much attention to expert advice on parenting and who believes that as long as all of the steps are followed, the parent can rear a perfect child. “What is wrong with that?” you might ask. There are two major problems with this approach. First, the parent is taking all of the responsibility for the child’s behavior, at least indirectly. If the child has difficulty, the parent feels responsible and thinks that the solution lies in reading more advice and trying more diligently to follow that advice. Parents can certainly influence children, but thinking that the parent is fully responsible for the child’s outcome is faulty. A parent can only do so much and can never have full control over the child. Another problem with this approach is that the child may get an unrealistic sense of the world and what can be expected from others. For example, if a teacher-counselor parent decides to help the child build self-esteem and has read that telling the child how special he or she is or how important it is to compliment the child on a job well done, the parent may convey the message that everything the child does is exceptional or extraordinary. A child may come to expect that all of his efforts warrant praise, and in the real world, this is not something one can expect. Perhaps children get more of a sense of pride from assessing their performance than from having others praise their efforts.

So what is left? Lemasters and Defrain (1989) suggest that the athletic coach style of parenting is best. The principles of coaching are what are important to Lemasters and Defrain. A coach helps players form strategies, supports their efforts, gives feedback on what went right and what went wrong, and stands at the sideline while the players perform. Coaches and referees make sure that the rules of the game are followed and that all players adhere to those rules.

Similarly, the athletic coach as a parent helps the child understand what needs to happen in certain situations, whether in friendships, school, or home life, and encourages and advises the child about how to manage these situations. The parent does not intervene or do things for the child. Instead, the parent’s role is to guide while the child learns first hand how to handle these situations. The rules for behavior are consistent and objective and presented in that way. So, a child who is late for dinner might hear the parent respond in this way, “Dinner was at six o’clock.”  Rather than, “You know good and well that we always eat at six. If you expect me to get up and make something for you now, you have got another thing coming! Just who do you think you are showing up late and looking for food? You’re grounded until further notice!”

The most important thing to remember about parenting is that parents can always improve. They can practice being more objective. They can learn about what is reasonable to expect of a child and their stage of development. They can recognize their own needs and limitations. Parenting is more difficult when parents have physical or psychological needs that interfere with decision making. Some of the best advice for parents is to try not to take the child’s actions personally, and be as objective as possible.

Influences on Parenting

Parenting is a complex process in which parents and children influence on another. There are many reasons that parents behave the way they do. The multiple influences on parenting are still being explored. Proposed influences on parenting include parent characteristics, child characteristics, and contextual and sociocultural characteristics (Belsky, 1984; Demick, 1999).

Parent Characteristics

Parents bring unique traits and qualities to the parenting relationship that affect their decisions as parents. These characteristics include the age of the parent, gender, beliefs, personality, developmental history, knowledge about parenting and child development, and mental and physical health. Parents’ personalities affect parenting behaviors. Mothers and fathers who are more agreeable, conscientious, and outgoing are warmer and provide more structure to their children. Parents who are more agreeable, less anxious, and less negative also support their children’s autonomy more than parents who are anxious and less agreeable (Prinzie, Stams, Dekovic, Reijntes, & Belsky, 2009). Parents who have these personality traits appear to be better able to respond to their children positively and provide a more consistent, structured environment for their children. Figure 7.33 Source 294 Parents’ developmental histories, or their experiences as children, also affect their parenting strategies. Parents may learn parenting practices from their parents. Fathers whose own parents provided monitoring, consistent and age-appropriate discipline, and warmth were more likely to provide this constructive parenting to their children (Kerr, Capaldi, Pears, & Owen, 2009). Patterns of negative parenting and ineffective discipline also appear from one generation to the next. However, parents who are dissatisfied with their own parents’ approach may be more likely to change their parenting methods with their children.

Child Characteristics

Parenting is bidirectional. Not only do parents affect their children, but children also influence their parents. Child characteristics, such as gender, birth order, temperament, and health status, affect parenting behaviors and roles. For example, an infant with an easy temperament may enable parents to feel more effective, as they are easily able to soothe the child and elicit smiling and cooing. On the other hand, a cranky or fussy infant elicits fewer positive reactions from his or her parents and may result in parents feeling less effective in the parenting role (Eisenberg et al., 2008). Over time, parents of more difficult children may become more punitive and less patient with their children (Clark, Kochanska, & Ready, 2000; Eisenberg et al., 1999; Kiff, Lengua, & Zalewski, 2011). Parents who have a fussy, difficult child are less satisfied with their marriages and have greater challenges in balancing work and family roles (Hyde, Else-Quest, & Goldsmith, 2004). Thus, child temperament, as previously discussed in chapter 3, is one of the child characteristics that influence how parents behave with their children. Another child characteristic is the gender of the child. Parents respond differently to boys and girls. Parents often assign different household chores to their sons and daughters. Girls are more often responsible for caring for younger siblings and household chores, whereas boys are more likely to be asked to perform chores outside the home, such as mowing the lawn (Grusec, Goodnow, & Cohen, 1996). Parents also talk differently with their sons and daughters, providing more scientific explanations to their sons and using more emotional words with their daughters (Crowley, Callanan, Tenenbaum, & Allen, 2001).

Contextual Factors and Sociocultural Characteristics

The parent-child relationship does not occur in isolation. Sociocultural characteristics, including economic hardship, religion, politics, neighborhoods, schools, and social support, also influence parenting. Parents who experience economic hardship are more easily frustrated, depressed, and sad, and these emotional characteristics affect their parenting skills (Conger & Conger, 2002).

The impact of class and culture cannot be ignored when examining parenting styles as they influence parenting behaviors in fundamental ways. While promoting the development of skills necessary to function effectively in one’s community is a universal goal of parenting, the specific skills necessary vary widely from culture to culture. Thus, parents have different goals for their children that partially depend on their culture (Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2008). Parents vary in how much they emphasize goals for independence and individual achievements, maintaining harmonious relationships, and being embedded in a strong network of social relationships.

For example, the two models of parenting described above assume that authoritative and athletic coaching styles are best because they are designed to help the parent raise a child who is independent, self-reliant, and responsible. These are qualities favored in “individualistic” cultures such as the United States, particularly by the middle class.

Authoritarian parenting has been used historically and reflects the cultural need for children to do as they are told. African-American, Hispanic, and Asian parents tend to be more authoritarian than non-Hispanic whites. In collectivistic cultures such as China or Korea, being obedient and compliant are favored behaviors. In societies where family members’ cooperation is necessary for survival, as in the case of raising crops, rearing children who are independent and who strive to be on their own makes no sense. However, in an economy based on being mobile in order to find jobs and where one’s earnings are based on education, raising a child to be independent is very important.

Working-class parents are more likely than middle-class parents to focus on obedience and honesty when raising their children. In a classic study on social class and parenting styles called Class and Conformity, Kohn (1977) explained that parents tend to emphasize qualities that are needed for their own survival when parenting their children. Working-class parents are rewarded for being obedient, reliable, and honest in their jobs. They are not paid to be independent or to question the management; rather, they move up and are considered good employees if they show up on time, do their work as they are told, and can be counted on by their employers. Consequently, these parents reward honesty and obedience in their children. Middle-class parents who work as professionals are rewarded for taking the initiative, being self-directed, and assertive in their jobs. They are required to get the job done without being told precisely what to do. They are asked to be innovative and to work independently. These parents encourage their children to have those qualities as well by rewarding independence and self-reliance. Parenting styles can reflect many elements of culture.

Other important contextual characteristics, such as the neighborhood, school, and social networks, also affect parenting, even though these settings do not always include both the child and the parent (Brofenbrenner, 1989). Culture is also a contributing contextual factor, as discussed previously in chapter four. For example, Latina mothers who perceived their neighborhood as more dangerous showed less warmth with their children, perhaps because of the greater stress associated with living a threatening environment (Gonzales et al., 2011).

Figure 10.2.2. Influences on parenting.

The Changing Parent-Child Relationship

Despite common perception, it appears that most teens do not experience adolescent “storm and stress” to the degree once famously suggested by G. Stanley Hall, a pioneer in the study of adolescent development. Only small numbers of teens have major conflicts with their parents (Steinberg & Morris, 2001), and most disagreements are minor. For example, in a study of over 1,800 parents of adolescents from various cultural and ethnic groups, Barber (1994) found that conflicts occurred over day-to-day issues such as homework, money, curfews, clothing, chores, and friends. These disputes occur because an adolescent’s drive for independence and autonomy conflicts with the parent’s supervision and control. These types of arguments tend to decrease as teens develop (Galambos & Almeida, 1992).

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