Overly Strict, Controlling Parents Risk Raising Delinquent Kids

Study Looks at Parenting Styles and Their Possible Effects on Kids’ Behaviors

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on February 23, 2012

Feb. 23, 2012 -- Many parents may think that taking a hard line with their kids will keep them on the straight and narrow, but a new study suggests this is not always the case.

Uber-strict parents who rule with a controlling, iron fist -- while not giving their children a chance to speak their mind -- are more likely to raise children who are disrespectful and engage in delinquent behaviors such as stealing, hurting others, and/or substance abuse.

“Kids don’t view them as a legitimate authority figure and are more likely to break the rules,” says researcher Rick Trinkner. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

The new findings appear in the Journal of Adolescence.

Trinkner and colleagues analyzed data from the New Hampshire Youth Study of middle- and high school-aged students. Students answered three questionnaires during an 18-month period. Questions concerned their parents’ discipline style, how they viewed their parents, and their history of delinquent behaviors.

There are basically three types parenting styles:

  • Authoritative parents show discipline but also some warmth.
  • Authoritarian parents show a lot of discipline and no warmth.
  • Permissive parents show a lot of warmth and no discipline.

Authoritative Parenting Gets Respect and Results

According to the new study, authoritarian parents are most likely to raise children who are disrespectful of parental authority and/or engage in delinquent behaviors. Being overly permissive also has its downsides. The key is to strike it somewhere in the middle, Trinkner says.

“The best approach, from my perspective, is to be an authoritative parent. This means have discipline and standards for behavior and also showing warmth and also being receptive to a child's needs.”

This starts by talking with, but not at, your child. “Allow your child to explain their concerns, anxiety, or problems with your rules, but this doesn’t mean you instantly give in,” he says.

Put another way: Children should have a voice, but not a vote. “Children should have the opportunity to explain where they are coming from,” Trinkner tells WebMD. “Listen, but let them know this is still not going to fly and tell them why.”

Susan Newman, PhD says good parenting starts early with clear boundaries and behavioral expectations. Newman is a social psychologist in Middlesex County, N.J., and author of several books, including The Case for the Only Child.

It is important to explain to teens why you are putting a rule in place, she says. “Allow your child to explain his or her mistake/error in not adhering to a rule, because not giving a child a chance to be heard will probably result in the opposite of what you are trying to teach.”

Also, admit when you might have been wrong to increase your legitimacy as a parent. “This, too, will help increase your credibility, earn your adolescent’s respect, and ideally open the door for him to come to you in the future with problems,” Newman tells WebMD.

Show Sources


Trinkner, R. Journal of Adolescence, February 2012.

Rick Trinkner, doctoral candidate, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.

Susan Newman, PhD, social psychologist in Middlesex County, N.J.

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