Permissive parenting is one of four major types of parenting that are usually cited by child psychologists. In permissive parenting, parents will be warm and responsive to their child’s needs, but are reluctant to enforce discipline. The classical argument goes that children raised this way end up spoiled and unable to accept when things do not go their way. However, because of how studies are performed, many parents who are rated as permissive are actually not causing too much harm to their children.
When defining parenting styles, there are two criteria on which a parenting style is rated. On one axis is attentiveness to a child’s needs; parents that pay a lot of attention to their child are nurturing, while parents who ignore their child are not. On the other axis is disciplinary level. Parents who enforce a level of behavior are authoritarian or authoritative, while parents who let their child do whatever they want are permissive or neglectful.
Authoritarian parents have a low level of nurture, but a high level of discipline. Their children are expected to follow rules without the parent reciprocating with affection and fulfilling the child’s needs. Authoritative parents impose discipline, but also participate in the family with nurture and understanding. Neglectful parents impose neither discipline nor involvement, and allow their children to largely raise themselves. Permissive parents are high in nurture, but low in discipline.
In general, children from neglectful or authoritative families tend to rebel against parents, and have a higher rate of crime and poverty. Children from authoritative families are typically considered the most well balanced, with self-discipline and a strong sense of self. Permissively parented children, on the other hand, often lack in self-discipline. These children may have difficulty adjusting to the adult world, where they have responsibilities that must be fulfilled. Because they did not have formative experiences related to responsibility and order being imposed, their ability to cope with the adult world is hindered.
However, studies on the subject vary widely, because researchers have difficulty deciding what exactly defines permissive parenting behavior. Many studies will base it on a survey from the children asking them to describe their parents. For example, a questionnaire may ask whether children have a specific curfew, or if their parents demand that chores are done before play time.
However, these questions often do not tell the full story. Some children and teens are responsible enough that parents do not need to set specific guidelines. For some children, “be home in time to get up in the morning” is all the guidance they require. So, in many cases, studies on permissive parenting have skewed results, since parents that are actually authoritative get lumped in with permissive parents who truly do not impose discipline.
Permissive parenting, at its worst, means children who are unfit to deal maturely with the adult world. Lack of discipline means a lack of self discipline, which can be crippling in adulthood. However, many parents often called permissive are in fact imposing their own sort of order.