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What type of parent are you?

How you choose to raise your children could have a lasting impact on their development and ability to handle challenges in life

What's the best way to raise your child? It's a question that has spawned numerous books, and seen authors race to coin the next quirky name for a new style of parenting.

And it turns out there are many styles. To date, some of the best-known categories are:

  • Tiger parents, who are seen as pushing their children to succeed according to the parents' terms.
  • Helicopter parents, who take over every aspect of the child's life.
  • Snowplough parents, who remove obstacles to make life easier for their child.
  • Free-range parents, who allow children a great deal of freedom.
  • Attachment or gentle parents, who are relaxed but set limits in line with the child's needs and character.

Psychologists generally talk about parenting as fitting into typologies, which are based on the work of Dr Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist known for her research on parenting styles.

There are four basic typologies discussed:

  • Authoritarian parents are the authority in their child's life. They set the rules - they say "jump" and the child responds "how high?". (Most similar to tiger parents.)
  • Permissive parents are lax about their expectations, don't set standards and don't ask much of their children.
  • Neglectful parents are uninterested in their children and unwilling to take an active role in their children's lives.
  • Authoritative parents are highly demanding while being highly responsive.

One of the major criticisms of these typologies is how culturally determined they are. So what does research say about the pros and cons of each of these parenting styles?


Tiger parents

TYPE OF PARENT

You expect first-time obedience, excellence in every endeavour and a child who never talks back.

WHO COINED IT?

Law professor and author Amy Chua popularised the term in her 2011 book, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother. She describes tiger parents, often seen in Chinese families, as superior to Western parents. Chinese parents assume strength and don't shy away from calling their children names. They assume their children owe them, and expect their children to repay the debt by being obedient and making them proud.

WHY PARENTS CHOOSE THIS STYLE

Tiger mothers are, as Professor Chua attests, socialised to be this way by their cultural background. Thus, when they successfully demand an hour of piano practice, it's part of their cultural background that the child should comply. Western parents would have a hard time emulating the years of acculturation leading to such a moment.

Parents who follow this style might do so because they want their child to be successful. They could have deep insecurities about the future. These parents are most likely authoritarian.

PROS

Raising a child in this way could lead to them being more productive, motivated and responsible.

CONS

Children could struggle to function in daily life or in new settings, which might lead to depression, anxiety and poor social skills. But again, it's culturally dependent.


Helicopter parents

TYPE OF PARENT

You swoop in to rescue your toddler from every hardship; you're over-involved in your children's education and frequently call their teacher; you can't stop watching over your teenager.

WHO COINED IT?

Psychologist Foster Cline and education consultant Jim Fay coined the phrase in 1990 in their book, Parenting With Love And Logic. They describe helicopter parents as being confused about the difference between love and saving children from themselves. Another name for helicopter parenting is "overparenting".

WHY PARENTS CHOOSE THIS STYLE

They are likely to be scared for their child's future, perhaps like tiger parents. They might not trust their child's ability to navigate the world. They might think that, by hovering around, they can inoculate their children against failing.

There is probably a mix of authoritarian and permissive typologies here, but little research has been done on the style.

PROS

Parents could be overprotective, which might save their child or adolescent from unforeseen problems.

CONS

Children could lack emotional resilience and independence, which might affect them even into adulthood. Being a child of a helicopter parent could lead to an inability to control behaviour.

There's even an AskReddit devoted to the worst aspects of growing up with helicopter parents. In one story, the father followed the contributor, 21 at the time, to jury duty, because he didn't trust the contributor to do it properly. It's claimed that dad had a tantrum when he was kicked out by the security guard.


Snowplough or bulldozer parents

TYPE OF PARENT

You push all obstacles out of your child's way. Perhaps you've nagged the principal for a different teacher or bribed the coach to give your child a place on the team.

WHO COINED IT?

It appears the term was coined by former high school teacher David McCullough. Last year, he published a book, You Are Not Special, in which he implored parents to back off and let their children fail. It was based on a 2012 commencement speech he gave to high school students.

WHY PARENTS CHOOSE THIS STYLE

Maybe you think your child is exceptional, or too great to fail, and that's why you've identified with this parenting style.

In terms of typology, there are aspects of authoritarianism in the mix as such parents demand success (after all, they've bulldozed all obstacles from their children's path). However, they also score highly for permissiveness.

WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS

There's no empirical evidence either way for the snowplough approach. However, there are a lot of blog posts and media articles devoted to the topic.

That said, the pros and cons are probably similar to those for helicopter parents. Bulldozer parents could help children feel safe and secure. But this style might also foster a sense of entitlement or narcissism in the child.


Free-range parents

TYPE OF PARENT

You believe your role is to trust your child. You equip them with the skills to stay safe, and then back off.

WHO COINED IT?

The term was made famous by a case of "neglect" involving former columnist Lenore Skenazy, who wrote about letting her nine-year-old son ride the New York subway alone. The experience led to her being labelled "America's worst mother", and prompted her to write a book aimed at fighting the perception that the world was getting more dangerous.

Her blog tries to connect parents with like-minded others who agree that children need safety jackets and helmets in order to safely experience their independence. The approach is about giving children the childhoods that their parents experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.

WHY PARENTS CHOOSE THIS STYLE

Psychologists and experts suggest that this style is a backlash against anxiety-driven, risk- averse child rearing.

Ms Skenazy could be right - maybe people worry too much about everything. While she cites responses from parents (and lawmakers) who think the approach is neglectful, it is probably more aligned with the authoritative typology, where parents believe in teaching children to look after themselves.

PROS

Children learn to use their freedom, be autonomous and manage themselves. They might also be better able to handle mistakes, be more resilient and take responsibility for their actions. It could also result in happier adults.

CONS

Problems with this style centre on the legal aspects of the approach. In Queensland, Australia, it is illegal to leave your child alone for an "unreasonable" time while, in other states, parents must reasonably ensure that their child is properly looked after. Queensland law does not define what an "unreasonable" time is, but parents breaching the code would be committing a misdemeanour and could face up to three years in jail.


Attachment or gentle parents

TYPE OF PARENT

You believe that a child's earliest attachment to caregivers informs all subsequent attachments. The argument suggests that strong emotional and safe physical attachments to at least one primary caregiver are essential to the child's personal development.

WHO COINED IT?

The philosophy is based on the work of psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth on attachment theory. The work began with Dr Bowlby in the 1950s. He also worked with Dr Ainsworth, who did some famous experiments with young children.

Attachment theory suggests that children who develop strong bonds with parents or caregivers in their early years have happier, healthier relationships as they age. The term was then popularised by a book dubbed the "baby bible" that was written in 1993 by the Sears, a family of medical professionals.

WHY PARENTS CHOOSE THIS STYLE

Parents might want children to be positive about themselves and their relationships with others as they mature. Attachment parenting is associated with the authoritative typology. Such parents try to balance high expectations with empathy, and this is associated with the best outcomes.

PROS

This environment provides a safe haven of love and respect in which to build the child's relationships and from which the child can safely experience the world.

CONS

The style could be be conflated with permissive parenting. It is also associated, somewhat contrarily, with over-parenting - some suggest that it is a name for mothers who can't let their child go. The style has been called anti-women or anti-feminist. Some say the style conflates the woman's role with motherhood, undoing the work of feminism, but others disagree.

  • The writer is a lecturer in Education, at Queensland University of Technology. This article first appeared in theconversation.com, a website of analysis from academics and researchers.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 29, 2016, with the headline 'What type of parent are you?'. Print Edition | Subscribe