Controlling Vs Lax Parenting

If you had to choose between a very authoritarian style of parenting versus one that is permissive and lax, which would you prefer? Which is healthier for kids?

Both extremes leave their characteristic scars on children, and I would be hard pressed to say which is more damaging.

At the oppressive end of the continuum, a child suffers the humiliation of total domination. The atmosphere is icy and rigid, and he lives in constant fear. He is unable to make his own decisions, and his personality is squashed beneath the boot of parental authority. Lasting characteristics of dependency, deep abiding anger and serious adolescent rebellion often result from this domination.

But the opposite extreme is also damaging to kids. In the absence of adult leadership the child is her own master from her earliest babyhood. She thinks the world revolves around her heady empire, and she often has utter contempt and disrespect for those closest to her. Anarchy and chaos reign in her home. Her mother is often the most frazzled and frustrated woman on her block. It would be worth the hardship and embarrassment she endures if her passivity produced healthy, secure children. It typically does not.

The healthiest approach to child rearing is found in the safety of the middle ground between disciplinary extremes. I attempted to illustrate that reasonable parenting style on the cover of my first book, Dare to Discipline, which included this little diagram:

Children tend to thrive best in an environment where these two ingredients, love and control, are present in balanced proportion. When the scale tips in either direction, problems usually begin to develop at home.

Unfortunately, parenting styles in a culture tend to sweep back and forth like a pendulum from one extreme to the other.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia ( and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide” by Dr James Dobson with permission.