What do Americans think about different parenting styles, and which style did they grow up with?

Oana DumitruContributor
July 16, 2023, 1:01 PM GMT+0

With no universal rules or guidance, parenting is often said to be one of the “hardest jobs in the world.” While each parent may take a unique approach, psychologists have classified parenting styles into several broad categories based on parents’ behaviors and responsiveness toward their children. A recent YouGov survey asked Americans about their experiences with six popular parenting styles to better understand Americans’ opinions on the effectiveness of each. More Americans consider an authoritative parenting style to be effective than do any of the other five major styles, and most Americans think parents today aren't tough enough with their children.

Three-quarters (75%) of Americans say the authoritative style of parenting is somewhat or very effective, far ahead of the other five styles polled. By contrast, only 13% of Americans say the same about the uninvolved parenting style. The parenting style that has Americans evenly split is gentle parenting: 46% say this style is effective, and the same share say it is somewhat or very ineffective. That ranks gentle parenting second behind authoritative parenting. Parents of at least one child under 18 years old are more likely to say gentle parenting is effective than are parents of at least one child 18 or older and Americans who have never been parents. Parents who currently have at least one child under 18 also are more likely than parents of at least one child 18 or older to say that helicopter parenting is effective. Parents of younger children are more likely to endorse each parenting style as effective than are non-parents and parents of older children — perhaps a reflection of their younger age, or of their more recent exposure to many styles in and out of their homes.

Reflecting on their own childhood, the largest share of Americans say they were raised with the authoritative style (42%), and a smaller share say they were raised with the authoritarian style. (People could select more than one style for their upbringing.) Women are more likely than men to say their caregivers had an authoritarian style, and adults under 45 are more likely than older adults to say they were raised in the permissive or gentle style.

What styles of parenting do Americans adopt today?

A majority of Americans who are currently parents of at least one child under 18 say they have an authoritative parenting style or a gentle parenting style (51% each), 26% identify their style as authoritarian, 18% as permissive, 15% as helicopter, and 12% as uninvolved. (Parents could select more than one of each style.)

As for Americans who are not currently parents, 52% say they would use an authoritative style if they ever were parents and could choose one or more of the major styles, and 36% say they would use a gentle parenting style.

Aside from the rules associated with each parenting style, parents also decide how much they let their children in on the reasoning behind those rules. On this matter, most Americans agree that parents should explain the reasoning behind rules to children at least sometimes, with only 13% disagreeing with this position. Americans 65 and older are more likely than younger adults to say parents should sometimes or always explain their rules to their children.

Although Americans lean toward the authoritative parenting style in their own parenting — whether real or hypothetical — most say that today’s parents are not tough enough when it comes to disciplining their children. Americans 45 and older and parents of at least one child 18 or over are more likely to say that parents are not tough enough today than are adults under 45, parents of at least one child under 18, and Americans who have never been parents.

If parents are not being tough enough, what are punishments that Americans deem appropriate as forms of discipline? Grounding from friends and technology, timeouts, and verbal reprimands are punishments that large majorities of Americans say are occasionally or always acceptable. two in five Americans (44%) also consider spanking to be at least occasionally acceptable, and 15% say the same about slapping. Adults under 30 are less likely than older Americans to find these punishments acceptable, with the exception of slapping: They are more likely than older adults to find slapping acceptable.

— Linley Sanders, Taylor Orth, and Carl Bialik contributed to this article.

See the results of this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on May 9 - 12, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Pexels (Caleb Oquendo)

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