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Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs
(Comparison Chart)

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The Big Answer


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Handbook of Child Psychology

a book by P. H. Mussen (ed.) and E. M. Hetherington (vol. ed.)
Socialization in the context of the family: Parent–child interaction
an article by E. E. Maccoby and J. A. Martin
(our site's book review)

Between 1978 and 1982 a fellow named Mark R. Lepper, along with David Greene and Richard E. Nisbett, showed not only that a child’s interest in an activity is lessened when external pressures are applied by adults regarding the activity, but that “Maximum internalization of whatever standard of behavior the influence agent is attempting to teach will occur under conditions where the agent’s pressure is just sufficient to bring about compliance.” One could read this as the difference between encouragement and interference. This works in both directions, so that excess pressure not to do something is also ineffective at achieving its goal. This is called the minimum sufficiency principle of social control.

Diana Baumrind has done a lot of research on parenting methods and has found that permissive and authoritarian methods are both ineffective, but that authoritative parenting is the most effective of all methods. And the reason is simple: It honors the minimum sufficiency principle of social control. The least amount of pressure possible is applied to obtain compliance. “Authoritative parenting approaches the point of optimal internalization, in that pressure is sufficient to produce compliance, but not oversufficient,” according to Eleanor E. Maccoby and John A. Martin. Permissiveness and authoritarianism represent, respectively, undersufficient and oversufficient pressure to comply. Of course, P.E.T. and about a half dozen other parenting methods do not use compliance as a goal or logical consequences as a parenting tool. We coined the name Authoritative Lite to categorize such methods.

Lepper’s experiments show that the child choosing what to explore is the key to his development of intrinsic motivation
Lepper’s experiments show that the child choosing what to explore is the key to his development of intrinsic motivation

Lepper’s experiments in intrinsic motivation are important because they show that the child choosing what to explore is the key to his development of intrinsic motivation. (E.g., as in the Montessori teaching method.) Being at cause and in charge and not subject to external controls is how children want to learn—they rebel against unnecessary controls. But in teaching situations where external influence is implied and appropriate, the behavior being taught will be taught best and with the least resistance or conflict when pressure/encouragement is just enough. The child prefers to have the experience be about learning, not about submitting or obeying—especially if the child is older. These and many other studies on intrinsic motivation, parenting, teaching, etc., confirm unquestionably the now accepted fact that authoritarian parenting and/or teaching is flawed and ineffective by its very nature, and permissive parenting is even worse. Authoritative represents the key to parenting and teaching effectiveness, and noninterference represents the key to the development of intrinsic motivation.

Minimal pressure for compliance works in several forms: using diffuse social pressure rather than rewards or punishments, offering a variety of ways to comply but without questioning the need for compliance, offering to share the task with the child, and modeling the behavior rather than dictating that it must be done. As Thomas Gordon, et al., have asserted and proven, the best teaching strategy where effectiveness is key is adults becoming examples to emulate.

Alfie Kohn wants classrooms to move from compliance to community, with kids working with teachers cooperatively and teachers treating students as fellow citizens in a small community where everyone deserves respect—not just the teacher
Alfie Kohn wants classrooms to move from compliance to community, with kids working with teachers cooperatively and teachers treating students as fellow citizens in a small community where everyone deserves respect—not just the teacher

Internalization is when a child accepts a behavior, whereas lack of internalization is demonstrated when kids react to authoritarian pressures with either noncompliance or temporary compliance and then plenty of noncompliance once the opportunity arises. Noncompliance and lack of internalization is the usual response to most permissive strategies as well.

Interestingly enough, no less than the Tofflers have adopted these truths in their sociological-futurist writings, although there’s no evidence that they ever read these truths anywhere. It is moral, they say, to rebel against governments or groups that impose surplus social order, and moral to increase controls in situations that are out of control or that have insufficient controls for law and order to prevail. Surplus social order may be a totalitarian state, McCarthyism, or authoritarian parenting. They recommend socially necessary order, which is just enough to maintain order. This is analogous to authoritative strategies in parenting. This is in keeping with the themes of their Powershift book, in which they advocate the use of knowledge, which is high-quality power, over coercion or wealth, which is lower-quality power, whenever one can, since that is a major aspect of harmonizing with the realities of the Third Wave.

The surplus social order of authoritarianism is lower-quality power—the Tofflers recommend knowledge (which is high-quality power) instead
The surplus social order of authoritarianism is lower-quality power—the Tofflers recommend knowledge (which is high-quality power) instead


The unfair social order of plutocracy (rule by wealth) is lower-quality power—the Tofflers recommend knowledge (which is high-quality power) instead, but rule by knowledge is a far cry from what we have
The unfair social order of plutocracy (rule by wealth) is lower-quality power—the Tofflers recommend knowledge (which is high-quality power) instead, but rule by knowledge is a far cry from what we have

Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people who are distinguished by royalty, wealth (plutocracy), family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Surplus social order of authoritarianism has always in history been intrinsic to oligarchical rule. So oligarchies utilize lower-quality power rather than the higher quaity of knowledge power as the ruling method, although extreme fact gathering and data retrieval may be an essential tool of oligarchies. The United States has degenerated into such an oligarchy in the 21st century, using the NSA and other agencies to spy on not just terrorists or criminals but ordinary citizens. Concomitantly, citizens have very little to say about how things are done as our republic "by the people and for the people" has degenerated into a republic "by just a few rich and powerful people in the Corporatocracy and for just a few rich and powerful people in the Corporatocracy." Our democracy is very ill, and the pretense of voting has gone from hollow to ludicrous. When the two parties are both equally bought and paid for by the same Corporatocracy, there's no democracy, and when regardless of whom we vote for we get the same corruption, gridlock, disempowering of the people, robbing of the citizens, and representatives who pretend to represent us but represent only the Corporatocracy, there's no democracy. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.)

As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible
As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible

In such a pretentious power structure, authoritarianism is omnipresent in our bureaucracies—both corporate and government ones. With such a terrible example being set by the powers that be in our pseudo-democratic oligarchy, is it any wonder the citizens have such trouble creating democratic families and relationships? Surplus social order of authoritarianism has inundated our country. See A Dream Deferred and America's Promise and dozens of other articles on our website. If you are wondering how to shift our oligarchy back toward democracy, know that violence or complaining won't help. The former will land you behind bars and will not work anyway, while the latter will get you a patronizing, ghoulishly-smiling bureaucrat who will pretend to listen just to get rid of you so he can get back to his job: seat-warming. (That may not be his job description, but it's a very veracious summary of his accomplishments. But what did you expect? He's a bureaucrat!)

Complaining will get you a patronizing, ghoulishly-smiling bureaucrat who will pretend to listen just to get rid of you
Complaining will get you a patronizing, ghoulishly-smiling bureaucrat who will pretend to listen just to get rid of you

Using just sufficient power to keep society civil, just and organized is an insight, as you can see, totally in keeping with the best science sociology, psychology and learning theory have to offer. When the American Revolution revolted against excess social order attempts from Europe, and created a United States of free people, they established a democracy that represents socially necessary order, with the two parties helping to maintain the balance between too much and too little order by pressuring in both directions at once.

Logic and experience both dictate that the best parent-child relationships come from authoritative methods. The best encouragement for chosen activities, and the best support for the development of intrinsic motivation in general, is complete noninterference, so the inescapable analogy here is that freedom in society corresponds to noninterference, and necessary order in society corresponds to authoritative methods.

It is not surprising that many authoritative parenting methods, such as Louise Hart’s Winning Family Lifeskills, call themselves democratic. Thomas Gordon’s P.E.T. also calls itself democratic, and can either be thought of as authoritative parenting without the logical consequences training or a separate type that many would consider harmonious or humanistic (Authoritative Lite—see above). Harmonious and humanistic are two names for the same category of method, to many, but whatever this category is, it is not yet a well-established type except on our site, especially here. But George Lakoff’s description of it in his Moral Politics book shows that P.E.T. and some of the related parenting methods are closer to harmonious than any other category.

Diana Baumrind’s description of harmonious parenting was so undeveloped that most of her actual subjects in this category were “preparing themselves for communal living.” They were like authoritative parents with natural consequences training but not logical consequences training, but they were also a bit weird—par for the course for 1971 alternative lifestyle advocates who had not yet learned the fatal flaws of commune living ideals and theories. Anyway, if one forgets her subjects’ idiosyncrasies and merely looks at the general characteristics as Lakoff did, one can see that a useful category arises, if for no other reason than P.E.T. and a few other parenting methods don’t use logical consequences training; and this gives us a name for their general category, since strictly authoritative parenting does use logical consequences. We still prefer our term: Authoritative Lite, and the reasons are spelled out here.

Gordon, in assessing the authoritative category, has included it in a 1991 Effectiveness Newsletter section entitled Other Research That Confirms The Benefits Of The P.E.T. Parenting Model. He looks at the win-win mutual reciprocity of the method, gives Baumrind proper credit for its naming, and looks at the great outcomes of authoritative as compared to permissive or authoritarian parenting. The implication is that he considers P.E.T. a variation of the authoritative model—an improved model, if you will, or simply Authoritative Lite.

Anyway, since both P.E.T. and strictly authoritative get really good and really similar outcomes, we accept both as optimal parenting, realizing that slightly more “demanding” or conservative parents may prefer the authoritative model, while slightly less demanding parents may prefer P.E.T. It has been hypothesized in the research literature that the more demanding authoritative methods may quite probably be exchanged for harmonious (e.g., P.E.T.) methods as a child gets older as the desired behavior will have become a habit by then.

Baumrind accepts forms of authoritative parenting that include punishment—even including spanking—as long as it’s done in an authoritative context. This is an error.
Baumrind accepts forms of authoritative parenting that include punishment—even including spanking—as long as it’s done in an authoritative context. This is an error.

Baumrind accepts forms of authoritative parenting that include punishment—even including spanking—as long as it’s done in an authoritative context, but she notes that harmonious parents get great results without punishment and power trips. Her “harmonious” definition is so lacking in data and insight that we feel Lakoff’s insightful, useful definition is much more appropriate and beneficial—we’ve adopted it and put aside her hazy definition.

Lakoff, Hart, Popkin, Adler, McKay, Critzer, Nelsen, Kvols, Dreikurs, Dinkmeyer, Gordon and Hunt (below) and all true authoritative parenting advocates would keep punishment out of the parenting agenda, relying instead on consequences, reason, and conflict resolution procedures. (Baumrind would do well to absorb the considerable wisdom in Gordon’s book, Discipline That Works, on the subject of discipline, where she’d learn about punishment’s negative effect on self-esteem, about how behaviorism’s “rewards” are as inappropriate as punishment to teach children, and about the hidden agendas at work in punishment that are bad for everyone, etc.)

On the specific issue of punishment, Thomas Gordon, Louise Hart and Bruno Bettelheim (along with countless other parenting experts, a few of whom are listed above) say no—never. Its goal of vengeance and submission is negative power. As Bettelheim says: “The fundamental issue is not punishment at all, but the development of morality—that is, the creation of conditions that not only allow but strongly induce a child to want to be a moral, [self]-disciplined person.” (This is a key concept in MCs.) Morton Hunt, in The Story of Psychology, says that induction, where you influence the child with words, logic, knowledge, and guidance, is superior to punishment. This is Third Wave gospel. Hart, Bettelheim and Gordon agree. Hunt also says that the best results are gotten from authoritative, not authoritarian or permissive parenting.

Self-esteem is positively associated with democratic, authoritative parenting such as Hart and Gordon advocate, but is negatively associated with authoritarian and permissive parenting. The research is conclusive. The same is true of school grades, as Sanford M. Dornbusch, et al., have shown in The Relation of Parenting Style to Adolescent School Performance. Baumrind has shown in many studies how competence, responsibility, independence and cognitive function are all best nurtured with the use of authoritative parenting.

Kids feel like acting decent in situations that Baumrind and Gordon call reciprocal, because parents are very responsive to kids’ needs and kids are therefore very responsive to parents’ needs. This is the democratic authoritative pattern that so many parenting methods and parenting authors have emulated and championed. Gordon and Hart and many other parenting experts consider reciprocal democratic parenting far superior to rewards and punishments, which causes kid to become: addicted to indirect self-acceptance, as warned about in Putney and Putney’s The Adjusted American, extrinsically-externally motivated rather than intrinsically-internally motivated, at effect rather than at cause, and prone to develop a locus of control outside themselves (which David Riesman, author of The Lonely Crowd, warned us about).

Reciprocal democratic parenting is far superior to rewards and punishments, which cause kids to become addicted to indirect self-acceptance
Reciprocal democratic parenting is far superior to rewards and punishments, which cause kids to become addicted to indirect self-acceptance

Why manipulate kids with punishments and rewards and get them defensive, wanting to withdraw, fearful, lying, covering up, sometimes complying unwillingly, and making excuses, when you could choose to use natural and logical consequences and end up with kids responsible for their own behavior who learn from their decisions and mistakes and correct them without hassles, and who “learn from the natural and social order rather than from forced compliance to the wishes of authority figures.” (The quote is Hart’s.)

The bottom line is to teach self-discipline, self-control, self-responsibility, and self-direction. Parents won’t always be around to tell kids what to do; they must instill inner discipline and help the child develop the ability to think, judge, and make decisions on his own. Supplementary to this, they must model behavior that they want to see kids emulate, since example is definitely the best teacher.

Gordon, Hart and others see this as the basic goal of parenting, so when either the religiously-slanted dare-to-discipline crowd or even well-meaning people like T. Berry Brazelton and Diana Baumrind advocate the need for unilateral (nondemocratic) limits setting and punishment usage when any of the limits are exceeded, they are merely supporting the old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm of which commands, authority, win-lose, and domination-submission patterns were an integral part. Both reject authoritarian and permissive patterns and embrace the wisdom, balance and effectiveness of the authoritative parenting method. But both Brazelton and Baumrind have managed to bring along a bit of baggage from the old school of discipline—unnecessary and ultimately harmful baggage, if the truth be told. (This is a common phenomenon in a paradigm shift when an area of science is in the midst of a challenging transition. We’ve seen it in physics and in other sciences as well.)

When an area of science is in the midst of a challenging transition (paradigm shift), baggage from the old paradigm often comes along for the ride
When an area of science is in the midst of a challenging transition (paradigm shift), baggage from the old paradigm often comes along for the ride

Gordon says that all methods are harmful if they merely are like P.E.T. but use logical consequences (which P.E.T. does not), since he considers all logical consequences punishment. Hart, Bettelheim, Hunt and Lakoff agree with Gordon that punishment is harmful but disagree that logical consequences is necessarily a punishment technique—they advocate the types of logical consequences that are not disguised punishments but merely needed discipline steps that help instill self-discipline. (See the comments on P.E.T. Parent Effectiveness Training for evidence that Gordon’s P.E.T. uses a type of logical consequences as well, but just doesn’t call it that.)

We concur with Gordon that P.E.T. methods are the best parenting methods (which is why so many methods—Positive Parenting, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, Active Parenting, Hart’s Winning Family Lifeskills, et al.—incorporate various P.E.T. techniques), but we also concur with Louise Hart that logical consequences are sometimes needed when natural consequences aren’t available, but, like Hart, accept these only when natural consequences aren’t possible and only when the consequences really do feel like fair, reasonable, democratic choices and not like punishment. An example is keeping a child away from his bike for a few days because he keeps refusing to wear his bike helmet. Natural consequences (serious injury, possibly permanent) are too harsh, so logical ones (take away the bike temporarily) are needed for safety reasons.

Sometimes, if it wasn’t for nonpunitive logical consequences, we’d have to settle for no consequences at all, and this is a part of permissive parenting strategies that has been positively invalidated for all time. No consequences is an unacceptable outcome.

Read scary story, have scary dream (a natural consequence; the logical consequence of book confiscation by parent is unneeded)
Read scary story, have scary dream (a natural consequence; the logical consequence of book confiscation by parent is unneeded)

We consider P.E.T., Aware Parenting, Connection Parenting, Discipline Without Distress, Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, and Nonviolent Communication (N.V.C.) to be the best parenting programs anywhere, although the last of these may seem a bit complex or incomplete for some. But there is so much research that points to authoritative parenting methods as the most successful methods that we feel that a separate Democratic category may do the six just-mentioned methods a disservice. By discluding themselves from the Authoritative category they may get somewhat marginalized. With so many experts and books and websites and studies and researchers saying that authoritative parenting is by far the best, wouldn't it be prudent for these six methods to get in on the glory? We think so—hence our three Authoritative Parenting categories below, which solve all problems in one fell swoop.

In an effort to remedy the confusion and terminology looseness related to parenting methods, we categorized the word authoritative into 3 parts: Pseudo-Authoritative (like Diana Baumrind's control-based method which we think of as Authoritarian Lite), plain old Authoritative (like Rudolf Dreikurs' democratic parenting, the Ginott method, S.T.E.P., and Active Parenting, to name but a few—all these Authoritative methods use logical consequences), and Authoritative Lite methods, like P.E.T.

Authoritative Lite: (also known as Democratic Parenting or Harmonious Parenting or Humanistic Parenting) authoritative parenting that uses the minimum amount of control and does not include logical consequences. Examples of truly Democratic parenting that are Authoritative Lite are P.E.T., Aware Parenting, Connection Parenting, Discipline Without Distress, Nonviolent Communication (N.V.C.), and Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, although they don't necessarily consider their methods "authoritative" since they reject control and logical consequences. However, since so many of the P.E.T. methods are found in parenting programs that consider themselves Democratic and Authoritative, we consider creating a separate category called Democratic to be unnecessary. Democratic and Authoritative programs have a lot in common. It works better to simply stick with the accepted categories Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative, and have Democratic be a subcategory of the Authoritative method called Authoritative Lite.

(In MCs, people will probably choose P.E.T. [authoritative without punishment or logical consequences] and Winning Family Lifestyles [authoritative with logical consequences but no punishment] mostly, but a few authoritarian-raised people may opt for MCs which utilize Baumrind/Brazelton methods in which authoritative methods with punishment and logical consequences are used. Brazelton considers either a quick swat on the hand or butt serious punishment, but he considers a more usual form to be time-outs and getting sent to one’s room.

We will not consider any MC that uses punishment a real MC, and until they wise up, they will be seen as confused wannabes who are not an MC yet, and we will hope they wise up soon. After all, there's no excuse for them choosing parenting methods so poorly when there are so many good authoritative parenting methods around!

We predict that once an MC is working well enough, members will examine how other MCs are doing great with either Winning Family Lifeskills or P.E.T. or one of the other good authoritative parenting methods around, and they will reexamine all their nondemocratic, win-lose, old-paradigm ideas about punishment as a viable relationship tool, and they’ll drop them like hot rocks—especially since Baumrind’s own research has shown the superiority of democratic parenting over punishment-inclusive parenting, regardless of how she slants her conclusions away from this. The MC movement does not and will not ever accept punishment or any form of violence as viable human relationship techniques.)

For more about the issue of parental firm control, especially as a “necessary” part of authoritative parenting, see comments on Catherine C. Lewis’ The Effects of Parental Firm Control: A Reinterpretation of Findings. It turns out that not only has Catherine C. Lewis found fatal flaws in Baumrind’s theories about necessary firm parental control, but all those involved with P.E.T., Aware Parenting, Connection Parenting, Discipline Without Distress, Nonviolent Communication (N.V.C.), and Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting have discovered the simple fact that while Baumrind's advocacy of authoritative parenting is right on, her assertions that firm parental control and sometimes even punishment are necessary are simply wrong.

The Jury is no longer out. The proven fact is that any of the Authoritative Lite methods like P.E.T. are better than any other parenting types and plain Authoritative types are nearly as good, results-wise, so either category is acceptable. Millions upon millions of happy parents—and families—can testify to that fact.

For other study results involving the comparison of authoritative parenting and other types of parenting styles, search for these authors in our “Search this site” box: Gauvain, Baumrind, Maccoby, Lewis, Aunola, Brassington, Hill, Larzelere, Shucksmith, Chao, Ramsey, Strage, Peterson, Fletcher, Gray, Steinberg, Lamborn, Society for the Advancement of Education, Johnson Publishing Company Inc., Berg, Snowden, McIntyre, and Slicker.

Then see these books: (and the references in the back) Gordon’s Discipline That Works and Alvy’s Parent Training Today. Then see our comments on books and/or articles by these authors: Lakoff, Gould, Pugh, Critzer, Popkin, Dinkmeyer, Gordon, Faber, Dreikurs, Solter, Prinz, Kvols, and Nelsen, keeping in mind that these names above are just the first author listed—many works have more authors and these are listed as well in each of our reviews.

Finally, check out the real courses (begin with Internet searches) that teach various forms of authoritative and democratic parenting, like P.E.T., STEP, Attachment Parenting, Nonviolent Communication, Winning Family Lifeskills, Positive Parenting, Positive Discipline, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, the Ginott method (see our review on the Faber and Mazlish book Liberated Parents Liberated Children), Dreikur’s democratic parenting (see our comments on his Happy Children book), Loving Discipline, Connection Parenting, and Active Parenting.