From tiger to free-range parents – what research says about pros and cons of popular parenting styles

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What’s the best way to raise your child? It’s a question that has provoked the publication of 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 include:

  • Tiger parents, who are seen as pushing their children to succeed according to their 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, based on the work of Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist known for her research on parenting styles.

There are generally understood to be four typologies:

  • Authoritarian parents are the authority in their child’s life. They set the rules and say “jump” and their 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 be an active part of their child’s life.
  • 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? Amy Chua popularised this name in her 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua 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 them by being obedient and making them proud.

Why parents choose this style: Tiger mothers are, as 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 complies. Western parents will have a hard time emulating the years of acculturation that leads to that moment.

Parents who follow Chua may do so because they want their child to be successful. It may be these parents hold deep insecurities about the future. These parents are most likely authoritarian.

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

Cons: Children can struggle to function in daily life or in new settings, which may lead to depression, anxiety and poor social skills. But again it’s culturally dependent.

Helicopter parents

Type of parent: You step in to prevent your toddler’s every struggle; you are over-involved in your child’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 described 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: These parents are likely to be scared for their child’s future, perhaps like tiger parents. They may not trust their child’s ability to navigate the world. By hovering around they may think children will be inoculated against failing.

These parents are probably a mix or authoritarian and permissive typologies, but there is scant research on the style.

Pros: Parents can be overprotective, which may save their child or adolescent from problems they would not foresee.

Cons: Children can lack emotional resilience and independence, which can affect them into adulthood. Being a child of a helicopter parent may lead to an inability to control behaviour.

There’s even an AskReddit devoted to the worst aspects of growing up with helicopter parents. Stories include a contributor, 21 at the time, whose father followed them to jury duty, because he didn’t trust they could do it properly. It’s claimed dad had a tantrum when he was kicked out by the security guard.

Snowplough or bulldozer parents

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