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!



Author: Shelly D Mahon

I have been working with families and teens for almost 20 years, and teaching in a university setting since the year 2000. My commitment is that parents have the support and resources they need to take care of themselves and foster the growth and development of their children. ABOUT ME I have a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) and over 20 years of experience working with youth and families. No matter what your family structure, I am committed to helping you make your family work. I can guid you in effectively managing divorce, strengthening parent-child relationships, embracing the teenage years, reducing risks and increasing resiliency in your families. If fostering the growth and development of your children is important to you, I am committed to working with you. APART, NOT BROKEN: LEARN, CONNECT, & CREATE! Apart, Not Broken is for divorced or separated parents who want to: Move past fear, pain, & guilt Create the life they want with their child Manage their relationship with their ex Contribute to others Be the creator of their future The program gives you a place to: Learn: Hear others real experiences and insights. Receive information and recommendations that can make a measurable difference in adjusting and parenting after separation or divorce. Connect: Join an online community. Learn to use creative strategies to connect with your child and manage your relationship with their ex-partner. Create: Feel powerful in your ability to be the parent YOU want to be. Create the relationship YOU want with their child by building on existing strengths, starting new traditions, and creating lasting memories. This program has: – Videos reflecting real life experiences; – Online tools for sharing photos, comparing calendars, communicating, and more; – Current & concise information about divorce & parenting after divorce; – Engaging activities to enjoy with their child; & – Additional resources to build their own parenting toolbox. Happy Parenting, Shelly I took my first Human Development and Family Studies course as an undergraduate at 18 years old. This was the beginning of a lifetime love and commitment to this field. I have another online program Parenting Through Middle School. I am the mother of two teens myself. This has been an interesting journey and quite the adventure. Over the years, I have learned that parenting takes a lot of energy, but it is well worth the effort. To me, parenting brings to life an ever-changing spectrum of human emotion. It is filled with moments of love, excitement, anticipation, expectations, fears, hopes, and dreams. It has made me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time! Just when I think I have everything figured out, my children change. In these moments I realize that I too must change. As they grow, I find myself looking for the balance between teaching them my values, beliefs, and interests and helping them discover and develop into their own unique individual characters. I love to exercise, eat well, sing and play my piano. My favorite sports are running, mountain biking, hiking, snowshoeing, snowboarding, yoga, Pilates, and most recently, road biking. Happy Parenting! Shelly

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