Permissive parenting is a style of parenting that features a relaxed disciplinary attitude and focuses more on nurturing and treating the child lovingly and responding to their emotional needs (which is good), rather than setting rules or enforcing boundaries (which can be bad).
“Permissive parents generally do not monitor or regulate their children. As a result, studies have found that children of permissive parents tend to struggle with self-control which can potentially lead to a variety of bad outcomes.“Dr Diana Baumrind, 1960
The Four types of parenting styles
To recap, the four types of parenting styles are;
- Authoritative Parenting
- Authoritarian (Disciplinarian) Parenting
- Permissive Parenting
- Neglectful Parenting
“I ignore my child’s bad behaviour”
“I give in to my child when he or she causes a commotion about something”
“I bribe my child with rewards to get him to comply with my wishes”
Permissive parenting can be characterised by some of the following traits:
- Overly responsive to the child’s emotional needs – Taking it too far and pandering to the child’s every whim.
- Few or no rules – Lack of structure or boundaries for the child.
- Indulgent – rarely says no and gives in to the child’s wants, desires and impulses. May use these to try and bribe the child.
- Lenient – poor enforcement of rules and respect for boundaries, inconsistency.
- Treating your child like a peer – Trying to be their friend rather than an authority figure.
- No responsibility – Does not provide the child with responsibility such as school homework or household chores
- No accountability – Does not hold the child accountable for their actions.
- Freedom and Power – Allowing the child to have too much freedom and power over decision making without guidance or supervision.
As you can imagine, these characteristics don’t paint a very great picture and can make overly permissive parents sound a bit like ‘push-overs’ when it comes to raising their children. This can be very frustrating and annoying for other parents who tend to sit with one of the other three parenting styles, as the children of permissive parents can be highly disruptive.
Permissive parents typically don’t present themselves as strong role models and avoid using overt authority [Baumrind, 1966]. Instead, they may act as a peer or equal and might try to reason, manipulate or bribe their child into acting or behaving a certain way.
There is nothing wrong with being a flexible parent and being responsive to your child’s emotional needs is super important in parent-child bonding and promoting a secure relationship. Being there for your child builds trust that you will be there for them when they need to come in on the circle of security, and thus lets them develop and explore without you more confidently.
Ultimately then, the discussion of permissive parenting comes down to a level of control or how ‘relaxed’ of a parent you are, and how this lack of structure or ‘self regulation’ may negatively affect your child.
Effects of overly Permissive Parenting
There is some evidence to show that children that are raised using permissive parenting styles end up with high levels of self esteem, creativeness and resourcefulness [Turkel, 2008], however this is tempered with an overall lack of self-discipline, impulse control and responsibility for their own actions [Piotrowki, 2013].
Behavioural studies of school age children in the USA also showed that children with parents with a permissive style were more likely to become increasingly aggressive over time [Underwood, 2009]. Furthermore, the children of permissive parents were more likely to be overweight, have excessive screen time, higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of alcohol use as teenager, be more disruptive at school and have lower levels of academic achievement [Lamborn, 1991]
In summary, some of the major effects of permissive parenting on children can include;
- Higher levels of confidence
- They tend to be more resourceful and creative
- Higher levels of aggression
- More likely to be overweight
- More likely to have excessive screen time (television, phones etc)
- Higher levels of anxiety and depression
- Higher and earlier use of alcohol as teenagers
- More disruptive at school
- Lower levels of academic achievement
In defence of permissive parenting
Of course, permissive parenting is highly subjective. What one parent might consider permissive, another parent might find controlling or ‘micro-managing’. While providing useful reflections, studies on the subject are far from an exact science, and rely heavily on survey responses, broad categorisations and assumptions.
If we expect our children to develop into responsible, well adjusted adults then there should be a level of flexibility and a small level of self regulation allowed to help develop a child’s own self responsibility.
Permissive parents are also the least likely to discipline their children with physical violence or abuse. There is a direct link between violent discipline and child abuse and anti social behaviour later in life [Garcia, 2019]
The important takeaway is that being a responsive parent, attending to your child’s emotional needs and nurturing is overwhelmingly good. However, it is important to also set and consistently enforce boundaries and rules as children need structure to develop optimally. Being overly relaxed and pandering undermines your authority as a parent, and sets a poor role model or example to your child.
Baumrind D. 1966. Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907.
Türkel YD, Tezer E. 2008. Parenting styles and learned resourcefulness of Turkish adolescents. Adolescence. 43(169):143-52.
Piotrowski JT, Lapierre MA, and Linebarger DL. 2013. Investigating Correlates of Self-Regulation in Early Childhood with a Representative Sample of English-Speaking American Families. J Child Fam Stud. 22(3):423-436.
Underwood MK, Beron KJ, Rosen LH.2009. Continuity and change in social and physical aggression from middle childhood through early adolescence. Aggress Behav. 2009 Sep-Oct;35(5):357-75.
Lamborn SD, Mants NS, Steinberg L, and Dornbusch SM. 1991. Patterns of competence and adjustment among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful families. Child Development 62: 1049-1065.
Garcia F, Serra E, Garcia OF, Martinez I, Cruise E. 2019. A Third Emerging Stage for the Current Digital Society? Optimal Parenting Styles in Spain, the United States, Germany, and Brazil. Int J Environment Res Public Health. 16(13).