Researchers Identify Four Parenting Styles in U.S.

A study defines four parenting styles moms and dads use to raise their kids. What are they, and what does a southeast Michigan expert have to say about them?

Gone are the days of being an “authoritarian” or “permissive” parent here in the United States.

Researchers at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture revealed in 2012 they found four parenting styles across the country – discovering new developments since psychologist Diana Baumrind’s days (she’s the one who coined “too hard,” “too soft” and “just right” parenting labels).

So what are these four parenting styles – and can you really be defined by one parenting style, anyway? Here’s what researchers found and what a metro Detroit clinical psychologist thinks of the groupings.

The study

Over three years, researchers with the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture looked at 3,000 moms and dads across the nation. The parents of school-aged children did an online survey and participated in interviews, a release about the study says.

The project’s co-director, James Davison Hunter, said in the release that the results “tell the complex story of parents’ habits, dispositions, hopes, fears, assumptions and expectations for their children.”

For each style they discovered, the authors break down how a parent in this category views religion, what their background typically is, what their family life is like, and their views of the world are in general.

The types

The survey says the four new categories that define American parents are “The Faithful,” “Engaged Progressives,” “The Detached” and the “American Dreamers.”

1. ‘The Faithful Parent’

The Faithful Parent, which the study says makes up 20 percent of the nation’s moms and dads, stick to their religious morality – and parent based on those teachings.

Their daily rituals with prayer at mealtime, for example, and talking to their kids about religion are “consistent with their understanding that ‘raising children to reflect God’s will and purpose’ is the most important goal of parenting,” the study says.

About three-quarters of these parents say this strong sense of faith “is more important than their children’s eventual happiness and positive feelings about themselves” – or even “whether their children become successful in their careers.”

2. Engaged Progressives

Twenty-one percent of American parents fall under this category, the study says, which centers on learning responsibility and making choices with little emphasis on religion as guidance.

“Six of every 10 Engaged Progressives (59 percent) turn either to their own personal experience or to what ‘feels right’ to them personally,” the study found. Additionally the study notes that “over half (55 percent) believe that ‘as long as we don’t hurt others, we should all just live however we want.'”

This group tends to emphasize honesty, and they are generally optimistic about the world.

3. The Detached

These hands-off parents’ approach “is to let kids be kids and let the cards fall where they may,” the study says. These parents, who make up 19 percent of the nation’s total, are “more likely to quietly muse, ‘nothing ventured, nothing lost,'” the study notes.

“Laissez-faire parenting, for them, is a natural response to a generalized lack of certainty and a weak sense of parental efficacy.”

The study found that few detached parents are happy in their marriage, and about half of them spend less than two hours a day talking or spending time with their kids.

4. The American Dreamer

Most parents, amounting to 27 percent, are American Dreamers, the study found. They tend to be optimistic about their children’s opportunities and schooling.

“Insofar as their children are concerned, they hope for much and invest even more, pouring themselves fully into their families’ futures,” the study says.

Parents in this group tend to share their emotions with their children, and are likely to hope they’ll one day be “best friends” with their adult kids, the study says.

Never heard of these four parenting styles? More than likely, you’ve heard of the classic three types, as discovered by Baumrind in the 1960s, including authoritarian parenting (too hard), permissive (too soft) and authoritative (just right).

Then over the years, various other parenting discipline types have surfaced, like free-range parenting, tiger parents, attachment parenting, helicopter parents, lawnmower parents – even something called snowplough parenting.

An expert opinion

Eric Herman, clinical psychologist at the DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan, says when it comes to the four newer categories, he has a difficult time believing they can be “this specific” – and that styles of parenting wouldn’t overlap.

“I don’t think anyone says, ‘I’m picking a style,'” he says, but adds that these categories may just be a way to generalize what people’s attitudes about parenting are in the country.

Herman says any one of these four parenting styles on its own is “not enough” when it comes to raising kids, and that the categories are somewhat limiting.

“It also makes me feel rather than recognizing a commonality for families, we’re emphasizing differences,” he says. “I think we should do ‘sameness’ training. What are the qualities that make up a good parent, or families that are doing well?”

So what type of parent should you be? Herman referenced the classic authoritative style, explaining that parents “need to be the leader at home” – but they also need to be “loving and kind.”

Ultimately, he says if your kids know they’re loved, they will respect what you say – and that parents can’t “hope” their children will “be OK” – rather, they “have to work at it.”

“Parenting is work, and it’s not easy,” Herman says. “Parents that put in the time and put in the effort are going to get results.”

This post was originally published in 2012 and is updated regularly.



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