Parenting Styles & The Characteristics of Teens

The other day, my husband and went window shopping for new furniture to put in the front room of our house. Of course, what seems like a fairly easy task turned into a much more complicated ordeal. Do we get leather, microfiber, or suede? Do we want a pattern or solid color? What color? How many pillows do we want on the couch? Do we want a big, deep chair or small chair? The list goes on and on…. I realized that while we share very similar tastes, our idea of the “perfect” set-up for the front room was very different! It made me think about parenting teens, and the fact that we don’t always agree on how to parent our teens either!

As individuals, we are never surprised by the fact that people have different styles in clothing, couches and house colors. Yet, for some reason, we are surprised when people do not parent the way we would parent. Why is that? In many ways, it is because we come to parenting with strong ideas and beliefs about what it takes to be a “good” parent. There are some immediate pitfalls to this. First, there is an underlying judgement. In my experience, judging another parent often results in facing a similar dilemma. Second, there is usually more than one way to handle a particular situation. It is always important to remember that parents are the best judge of what will work for their individual and unique teenager.

Even though it feels like we make decisions and respond to our teens on a case-by-case basis, the way we respond has a lot to do with our parenting style. Parenting styles are shaped by the way in which we combine our warmth and affection for our teen with structure and discipline. Years of research suggests that there are four different parenting styles, each of which contributes to various characteristics in teens.

The one that is thought to have the best outcomes for teens is authoritative parenting. Adolescent experts, Nancy Darling and Laurence Steinberg, advise parents to think about this type of parenting as an “emotional context rather than a compilation of specific parenting practices”. Parents set a tone that communicates clear rules and guidelines, with expectations for appropriate conduct. In practice, these rules and guidelines are often established together. These parents are present and available to listen and answer questions. Parents monitor their teen and are nurturing when their teens make mistakes. This is not to say that teens don’t get consequences, rather that the consequences are delivered without shame and guilt. When parented this way, teens are more likely to be confident, responsible, and good at school. They are less likely to use or abuse drugs or alcohol, be involved in delinquent behaviors, or experience anxiety and depression.

The other three styles are:
1. Authoritarian parents use a more demanding and less warm and communicative style with their teen. This style is shaped by strict rules and no explanation. The expectation is to “do it because I said so”. Teens tend to have a lower self-esteem, and be less self-reliant, persistent, and socially poised. These teens tend to do as well in school as those from authoritative homes, but have less faith in their abilities.

2. Indulgent parents have fewer rules and lower expectations for maturity or self-control. This style is also characterized by parents being very nurturing and communicative, often taking on the role of “friend”. These teens report higher drug and alcohol use, lower school performance, and a bigger resistance to authority.

3. Uninvolved parents are less demanding, responsive, and communicative. These parents provide for their teen’s basic needs, but stay fairly detached from the day-to-day aspects of their teen’s life. In extreme cases, they may reject or neglect the needs of their teen. Teens from uninvolved parents tend to be less self-reliant, less socially skilled, more likely to exhibit psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, have higher rates of drug use and delinquency, and be less interested and less successful in school.

It is important to recognize that even the most well-intentioned parents are not going to be “authoritative” all the time. In fact, most parents find themselves falling into each of the four parenting styles at some point during the teen years. It is not healthy or helpful to analyze every move you make as a parent. Once, a parent educator told me to think of it as the 80/20 rule. The important thing is to be thoughtful in your approach and try to get it right most of the time.

How do you  know your parenting style? It can be helpful to consider:

  • How clear are you about boundaries and rules of the house?
  • What do you do when the rules are broken?
  • How comfortable are you in hearing your teen’s opinion, suggestions, alternatives?
  • How often do you find yourself explaining your reasoning?
  • Do you know who your kids friends are? Their parents?
  • How comfortable are you with compromise?
  • Do you have to nag your teen to get things done?
  • How often do you feel like your teen is taking advantage of your good nature?

If you are interested in finding out your parenting style, there are a variety of websites that offer free parenting style quizzes.  It can be interesting to take a couple and see where you fall. The best way to use this kind of informaiton is not to criticize yourself, but identify your strengths and weaknesses. Having more knowledge on how you parent can help you to grow in the areas that you deem important. Below are few recommended sites for parenting style quizzes. While these quizzes may use slightly different language, you will get the general idea.


Happy Parenting!



Give Me Five Minutes and Two Words: Therapy for You & Your Teen

Sometimes a little humor can go a long way! This last weekend, one of my counseling students shared this video with me and it made me laugh. It also made me think of raising teens. When I returned home, I shared this video with my own two teens. Jokingly I said, “Should I give this technique a try at home?” They both laughed and said, “As long as we can use it too!” I suspect there may be times in the future when we pull this one out of our bag of tricks just to lighten things up a bit!

On a more serious note, it is not uncommon for parents of teens to want their teen to just listen and do what they have asked them to do. Have you ever wished you could just say, “Stop It!” and your teen would just stop; stop leaving lights on in every room, stop hanging out with someone, stop leaving their bike outside all night, stop procrastinating in school, or stop coming home late. Of course every teen is different and every parent faces different challenges in helping their teen develop into a thoughtful and responsible young adult.

The problem is that as teens get older, they need to develop their own identity, one with the values, beliefs, and self-expression that is uniquely theirs. This helps to explain why “Stop It!” by itself doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to see certain situations as learning opportunities, ones in which teens can make their own decisions and live with the consequences. Other times, our teens need us to hold a hard, firm boundary and say “Stop It” or “Absolutely Not”!  Experts say that the most effective style of parenting is one that combines clear rules and expectations with being responsive, warm, and nurturing.   Using this style results in teens who grow into happy, capable and successful adults.

This may sound logical, or even easy to implement. The problem is that we don’t respond to situations like robots or machines.  In actuality, we are a lot more thoughtful about how we respond and we don’t always get it to right.  But, how can this be when the suggestions for “effective” parenting are so clear and our intentions are so genuine.   Let’s look at some of the things that influence how we, as parents, handle different situations.

  • We are emotional beings. Because our teens are one of our most important investments, we want to do it right. This desire can lead to being too harsh on our teens and then overly critical of our parenting.
  • We have experience.  We want to protect our teens from the things we have learned from our experiences.  This inhibits teens from having their own experiences.
  • We assign meaning.  We interpret situations and believe that our interpretations are the “truth”.  This leads to making assumptions instead of asking our teen to share with us.
  • We speak from our perspective.  We talk to them as if they have the same knowledge and understanding we have of the world.  We wish that we could impart our knowledge on them, while our teens want to figure it out themselves.
  • We want their love. We want a close relationship with our children. This can lead to protecting them, rather than letting them live with the natural consequences of their choices.
  • We get busy.  Sometimes when our teens need our attention the most, we are distracted or too busy to listen.  This can lead to having less communication, or even feeling disconnected from our teens’ lives.

The end goal is to be nurturing and responsive at the same time that we establish clear rules, guidelines, and expectations for appropriate conduct.  But, it is important to remember that knowing this doesn’t mean that it will be easy.   There will be times when we feel as though we have been too harsh or not harsh enough. Focus on “getting it right” as much as you can, and practice being patient with yourself. If you find yourself being too critical of yourself, just “Stop It!” Focusing on the past doesn’t allow you to move forward.

Happy Parenting!