Child, Parenting

The authoritarian parenting style – characteristics and effects

The authoritarian parenting style

In the feature film “Freistatt” from 2015, director Marc Brummund shows what consequences authoritarian structures can have in the upbringing of children and young people. Although the film tells a fictional story, it is based on true events and in particular denounces residential care in Germany up until the 1970s.
At that time, however, an authoritarian upbringing style also prevailed in many families, analogous to the social values, which included in particular unconditional obedience, diligence and unquestioned respect for authority figures. In the course of the 1968 student movement and social changes, the structures softened and other forms and styles of education gained importance. In the meantime, parenting styles have become blurred in practice and elements of different styles can often be identified in parenting within a family.

Authoritarian Parenting – What is it?

The authoritarian parenting style is one of several styles defined by social psychologists and educators. Sometimes referred to as the dominant parenting style, the authoritarian parenting style is obedience-oriented and prioritizes work and performance. He relies heavily on punishment and reward.
Today, the authoritarian style of parenting has lost much of its importance in practical parenting, especially since research shows that the effects on adolescents are predominantly negative.
In 2014, for example, the team of authors Carolin Donath, Elmar Graessel, Dirk Baier, Stefan Bleich and Thomas Hillemacher published a study entitled “Is parenting style a predictor of suicide attempts in a representative sample of adolescents?”, in which the authors state that that the risk of suicide attempts by adolescents is increased by both an authoritarian and a severely neglectful parenting style.

Studies in authoritarian parenting by Kurt Lewin

The term authoritarian parenting style goes back to studies on parenting behavior by the social psychologist Kurt Lewin and his collaborators in the USA in the 1940s, in which the effects of parenting behavior on the behavior of adolescents were examined. Lewin’s experiments are now regarded as groundbreaking for research into educational styles and leadership styles in business.

To record parenting styles, Lewin and his team examined the behavior and work performance of small groups, taking into account the parenting styles classified for this :

In the experiment, the team established specific guidelines for each parenting style and looked at the behavior of group members as a result. In particular, the following aspects were taken as a basis:

  • decision maker
  • way of performing the tasks
  • Distribution of tasks
  • intervention in task completion

Raising a child in an authoritarian manner? Important questions and answers:

Who mainly makes the decisions and sets the rules?

In the authoritarian style of parenting, all rules are determined by the educator as the authority and are not discussed within the group. Individual decisions or decisions of the entire group are not possible.

Who decides which procedures and techniques are used to complete the tasks and in which order they are completed?

In the authoritarian style of upbringing, only the authority, i.e. the group leader or the educator, decides how and with what means tasks are carried out.

What is the distribution of tasks?

The educator determines which group member takes on which tasks.

How does the educator intervene in completing the tasks?

The educator does not intervene in what is happening in the group, but can praise or criticize individual group members. However, he may demonstrate activities or procedures.


The authoritarian style of upbringing in the family

Parents who rely on a strictly authoritarian upbringing usually demand unconditional submission from the child, which does not allow any say or contradiction. Rules are enforced through strictness and harshness, but the authoritarian parenting style does not necessarily involve corporal punishment or abuse. In addition to punishment, praise is also used to achieve the educational goal. Prohibitions and instructions are not justified by the educator, but must be followed without questioning them. The authoritarian style of upbringing thus offers children few opportunities for self-development. They do not learn to make their own decisions and resolve conflicts with others in a goal-oriented manner.

Effects of an authoritarian parenting style

When investigating the different parenting styles, the researchers led by Lewin observed different behaviors of the children as group members.
If the group leader behaved according to the authoritarian upbringing style, i.e. consistently acted as an authority figure, their behavior fluctuated between aggression and cowardice towards authority. The behavior towards the other group members, on the other hand, was described as irritable and dominant. As already mentioned, a study in 2014 found an increased risk of suicide among adolescents who were brought up in a strictly authoritarian manner. As early as 2009, a team of researchers from Israel noticed a possible connection between an authoritarian upbringing and eating disorders. Other studies have concluded that authoritarian parenting has a negative impact on adolescent mental health.

In summary, it can be said that an authoritarian parenting style can, but does not necessarily have to, have these consequences:

  • aggressive behavior of the child also in later years
  • low self-confidence
    [ How to boost self-confidence in children ]
  • The authoritarian parenting style can also cause reduced self-confidence.
  • low social skills
  • increased risk of suicide
  • increased risk of eating disorders

Raising a child in an authoritarian manner is no longer up-to-date!
How children react to an authoritarian upbringing style depends, among other things, on the individual psyche. It must also be taken into account that in many cases the upbringing is not the sole responsibility of the parents. Teachers, educators, grandparents and other caregivers play a large part in the development of a child, which means that authoritarian upbringing in its purest form hardly ever occurs in reality.
We think: And that’s a good thing!


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