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Unpacking the Pros and Cons of Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting is one of the common parenting styles and has both pros and cons for child development. But is it right for your family?

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Raising children is a challenging and rewarding process. Each family has their own unique makeup, so no two parenting journeys are exactly alike. Let’s look at permissive parenting in particular. This is a more lenient approach. We’ll dive into exactly what that means, looking at the pros and cons of this style and seeing what experts think of this ideology. Whether you’re getting to know your first newborn, raising teenagers, or just wanting to understand the theories behind parenting better, we’ve got information to help. 

Planning Quality Time With Your Children

Whether you adopt permissive parenting or not, forming close relationships with your family members is important. Not only do they support child development, but strong relationships also last beyond adulthood. Spending quality time together is one of the best ways to build a strong foundation and continue to strengthen it. One easy way to build this habit is to pick up a copy of Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition. This book is filled with dozens of pages of activities. Each one is a surprise until it’s scratched off, so it’s extra fun for the whole family. The simple key will give you ideas of what to expect. Just make sure to commit after you scratch off!

Defining Permissive Parenting

The permissive parenting style is also known as lax, passive, or indulgent parenting. Caregivers and parents lack boundaries, rules, and expectations for their children. As a result, they are often viewed as friends, and there is an abundance of support and nurturing that takes place. There are many styles of parenting, but this one involves very few expectations, and the parents are easy-going and fun. 

Permissive parenting is a Freudian approach to raising children. Parents don’t set limits or many rules, and children are encouraged to express themselves and make decisions independently. Parents have little expectation of mature behavior and allow the children to “be children” as often as possible. 

This is just one of the different styles of parenting, and certain aspects of it can be great for child development. However, each way has pros and cons. For instance, children who come from permissive parenting situations exhibit high creativity and free development. But parents may use manipulation and bribes to get the desired outcome without real disciplinary actions. After all, there’s a flat hierarchy within the family structure.

History of Permissive Parenting

During the 1940s and 1950s, there was an increase in public interest and awareness of parenting styles. People began to learn more about how the actions of caregivers impacted the children throughout their lives. John Bowlby came up with attachment theory in the 1950s. That theory examined how a child’s relationship with their caregiver for the first few years of life would impact their relationships later in life. 

A decade later, research and theories to actually define the different parenting styles took off. Three initial researchers developed a group of classifications of parenting that include permissive parenting. Diana Baumrind, Eleanor Maccoby, and John Martin worked to break down different types of parenting styles in the 1960s. They broke down the styles into four: permissive parenting, authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting, and uninvolved parenting. 

Permissive is similar to authoritative in the amount of love and nurturing the child gets, but permissive parents are way less demanding and have fewer expectations than their counterparts. 

The studies show that three different things impact parenting styles. The first is the emotional relationship between the child and the parent. The second is the parents’ behavioral habits toward their children. And last is the parents’ belief system. Some religions, cultures, and upbringings might sway a parent’s style when it comes to raising their children. 

Parenting Styles Today

Child psychologists today still use these parenting styles to help families understand where they fall and what their children may need. Most child psychologists prefer the authoritative parenting style as the best for children, but there are always some exceptions and inconsistencies in the information. Not everyone needs to fall into the same bucket. 

Permissive parenting is more likely to be found today in industrialized countries that put emphasis on mental health, creativity, and independence. But what are some of the pros and cons of families who fall into the permissive category?

Pros of the Permissive Parenting Style

Permissive parents allow their children a lot of autonomy and independence, which helps them develop in really positive ways and build great habits. Here are a few of the pros of this specific parenting style.

Provides a Positive Emotional Environment

Learning how to express and understand emotions is a critical part of child development. The permissive parenting style involves a lot of conversation between the child and their parents around emotions. The adults work hard to get to know their children and understand their emotional responses to different situations. Instead of reacting negatively when children are melting down, they give them some space to cool off and process their emotions.

Having strong emotional intelligence can boost a child’s social skills. They understand how they are feeling and can communicate that to others. Permissive parents teach children that having emotions and feelings is normal and they should be expressed. This knowledge can also help children manage their mental health as they get older. 

Children have to learn to self-regulate their emotions. In families that use the permissive parenting style, there might be some issues when little ones deal with something emotionally challenging because there isn’t anyone coaching them through it. But in most situations, they are comfortable with emotions.

Builds Self-Esteem

Research has shown that children raised by permissive parents have strong self-esteem. The adults are constantly shouting out good behavior and pointing out things that are going well. There is less negativity, so kids are encouraged to try things and explore for themselves. They can take the credit and boost their confidence when there are successes.

Children who are encouraged to express themselves however they want become more confident. Parents are supportive and positive, which helps kids be willing to try more new things. There is an overall acceptance, so kids feel supported in their adventures and endeavors. The key to raising children who value themselves and have confidence is unconditional love, which is common in indulgent and permissive parents. 

Focuses on Creativity and Exploration

This flexible and open-minded parenting approach also helps boost a child’s creativity and desire for exploration. Early childhood is a formative time for learning how to use your imagination. Encouraging children to be creative and develop their own methods and ideas will help them cultivate those skills during this important period.

Children will be more resourceful when it comes to problem-solving and be ready to think outside the box when they are older. There will likely be some greater variety in passions and hobbies as well. Parents don’t criticize new ideas, and children don’t fear doing whatever activities or strategies they think of on their own.

In opposite situations, children are likely driven to do activities and hobbies that the parents enjoy and might not get the chance to explore the things that interest them. Permissive parents allow the children to lead and make decisions about how they want to spend their time and with whom. 

Builds a Close Connection Between Parents and Children

Bonds between parents and children have a lasting impact on development and relationships. Remember that attachment theory suggests that meeting a child’s needs early on can have a lifelong impact on all of their relationships. Permissive parents usually have a strong bond with their children. They have high responsiveness to their child’s needs and are well attuned to their child’s emotions without stepping in to regulate them. 

Parents act as role models for children, so children in this situation are more likely to grow up to have loving and close relationships with their future children. There is a lot of affection and love shared between family members. 

Permissive parents are known for warmth and connections. They spend time with their children and play alongside them. When kids get older, they are able to speak to their parents like they would a close friend and confide in them. This is a pro, but it can also lead to issues with boundaries and rules over time. We will cover that more in the cons section. 

Decreases the Likelihood of Substance Abuse

Many of the studies about parenting styles touch on the teenage years and the likelihood for kids to demonstrate risky behaviors. While the studies vary in their findings, it’s clear that permissive parenting styles aren’t the most likely to deal with substance abuse and risky behaviors in their teenagers. Uninvolved or neglectful parents are most likely to have children that get mixed up in trouble. 

More factors are in play for these statistics and studies than just parenting style, so predicting a teenager’s potential behavior is impossible. Enabling children to make their own decisions and celebrating the good choices may help drive them away from some of the bad things. Teenagers who act out sometimes just push boundaries and rebel against the rules at home. 

Cons of the Permissive Parenting Style

Now, let’s look at some of the negative effects of permissive parenting. The laid-back attitude of permissive parents can create some challenges for their children when they’re outside of the home and faced with other adults or authority figures. Awareness of these cons can help parents change some behaviors to avoid these situations.

Potential for Spoiled Children

Children of permissive parents are often at risk of being categorized as “spoiled.” This means they might exhibit some bad behavior, like throwing tantrums when faced with a situation in which they don’t get their way. If children are used to things going their way, they may struggle when they get to school or organized activities where they must follow rules. Without any guidance on dealing with those obstacles, they may act out. 

A sense of entitlement comes with getting things the way you want and not facing any consequences when stepping out of line. This can transform into a form of narcissism as children get older. Instead of being driven by what is right and wrong, children are driven by the desire to be admired or validated. 

Lack of Boundaries and Structure

Lack of structure and boundaries can cause behavioral problems for children. Permissive parents typically don’t set limits or enforce rules at home. However, children will eventually find themselves in a situation with a more defined structure and won’t be equipped to handle it. 

Children who grow up with permissive parents may be less responsible as they grow up because there have been little to no consequences. There can be issues developing decision-making skills as well. Some children make the best of having the independence to figure things out on their own, but other children find themselves further behind the curve because they didn’t develop those necessary skills.

Another issue with the lack of structure and boundaries that is common among children who grow up with permissive parents is less responsibility and accountability as they develop. It might be harder to count on them with homework, jobs, and other responsibilities that come with growing up. Not having the foundation and groundwork for understanding responsibility puts them at a disadvantage when those things are impossible to avoid. 

Challenges Dealing With Authority

When kids grow up viewing their parents as friends rather than authority figures, it’s hard to learn about respecting authority. Permissive parents put a lot of emphasis on their children’s freedom, but kids are missing out on learning how to respect those in positions of power and authority outside of the home. These figures could be teachers, coaches, other parents, or babysitters. 

Children with permissive parents are used to ruling themselves and will have a hard time adjusting. Bribery is also a common tactic for parents with this style, so children may be used to getting something in return for following the rules. When there is no one offering a reward for simply following instructions, it can yield a negative reaction from the child and possibly rebellion against the authority figure in the situation.

Forming Unhealthy Habits

Another possible negative effect of permissive parenting is the formation of unhealthy habits. Research shows that children of permissive parents are more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI) than others. This is likely due to the fact that children get to make a lot of their own choices about meals and snacks and will likely choose less healthy options. This can lead to obesity and other health issues.

Sleep is another area where children may suffer. Screen time amounts are higher in households with at least one indulgent parent. Spending too much time in front of a screen can have a negative impact on sleep. 

Without parents setting expectations on how to build healthy habits, it’s hard for children to make the best decisions for their physical health. Permissive parents can get around this by keeping screens out of the house as much as possible and providing healthy food options for the children, but it’s still hard if you let them make their own decisions most of the time.

Behavioral Inhibition

When studying parenting styles, there are some conflicting studies about how children develop. So much can be impacted by outside influences in addition to the parents. However, some studies show permissive parenting styles can lead to self-control problems and higher levels of depression and anxiety in children. 

Depression and anxiety can stem from the child’s inability to deal with changes or lack of control over a situation. This may seem to contradict some of the pros, but it’s important to mention because studies have pointed both ways. With permissive parenting styles, regulating emotions can be easier for children who have learned to self-regulate, or they can experience a lot of added stress when things don’t go their way. 

Lower Academic Results and Time Management Issues

Permissive parents provide a lot of love and nurturing, but without the boundaries and structure, things can be hard when children reach school age. They can struggle with academic achievement a bit. By having low demands during the toddler and early childhood years, kids can be overwhelmed in school and find it hard to keep up. 

Time management is one big challenge regarding academic performance and career performance. With permissive parents, kids are able to set their own schedules and timelines, but that isn’t the case when they get to school. 

Potential for Inconsistency

Each adult in your child’s life has their own style and method. Parents who raise their children with a permissive parenting style may struggle to find other adults who will get on board. Other adults that may be in charge of the children may have different expectations. It can get confusing for kids and cause some inconsistencies. 

Examples of Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting will look different in every household, but here are a few examples of what it might look like.

School Work

Homework is necessary for most students, but it might not get the attention required in a household with permissive parents. If children don’t have a routine and set expectations to focus on homework before moving on to television time or playing with friends, it might be seen as more of an afterthought. Kids might rush through it in the mornings before school to meet deadlines and miss the learning that happens. 

Meal Times and Snacks

Permissive parents typically give their children more options for what they can eat at meals or snack time. Instead of just eating what is put in front of them, kids can tell their parents what they would like. This can lead to a diet of many of the same favorite meals. 

Screen Time Rules

Studies show that two-year-olds should not get any screen time, and kids between 3 and 18 years old should not have more than two hours per day. Permissive parents have a hard time regulating this because they let their children have more control over their activities, and screen time can be addictive. Kids may spend too much time on phones and tablets without someone regulating their time. 

Experts on Permissive Parenting

Most experts agree that the authoritative parenting style is the best. It incorporates love and nurturing, but it also introduces boundaries and structure for children. Adopting the authoritative parenting style with some basic strategies can help add boundaries and structure to your home. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

1. Develop basic rules.

Lay the groundwork for some simple rules in your household. Avoid getting too detailed right out of the gate. If your children have been used to permissive parenting, it helps to involve them in the rule-setting process. Rules will help children understand behavior expectations in different situations and prepare them for school. 

2. Follow through on consequences.

Once the rules are set, there must be consequences if the rules are broken. The punishment should match the crime, so you don’t need to be extreme with the consequences. The important part is following through with any consequences you outline. Once you set the limits and rules, you must be consistent and stick to them. 

3. Reward good behavior.

Positive reinforcement is a great tool. It can be even more effective than punishment because it focuses more on good behaviors and creates positive interactions with your children. Celebrate good grades, smart choices, and anything you want your children to continue doing. 

Final Thoughts on Permissive Parenting

Each family is going to have their own unique situation and parenting styles. It’s important to understand the impacts your parenting style will have on your children. Provide love and support to children while also helping to set them up for success throughout their lives. The permissive parenting style has some benefits, but it’s important to have structure for your children while they develop. Spend some quality time together, and strengthen those family bonds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the permissive parenting style?

The permissive parenting style is one of four common styles. It’s characterized by a lack of rules and an abundance of parental warmth. Parents allow children to lead in many situations.

Are permissive parenting and gentle parenting the same thing?

Permissive parenting allows children to make decisions. Gentle parenting focuses more on understanding a child’s feelings and emotions. Some characteristics overlap, but they are not the same.

What are the benefits of permissive parenting?

The benefits of the permissive parenting style include a close connection between parent and child, strong self-esteem, creativity, and a positive emotional environment at home.

How can permissive parents encourage more creativity in children? 

To boost creativity, permissive parents can do fun activities with their children! Grab a copy of Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition for fun ideas to get everyone out of their comfort zone.

Can permissive parenting be combined with other styles?

Permissive parenting is on the spectrum of different parenting styles. Many parents will shift and move along the spectrum. There is some overlap between styles, but each is set apart from others.

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