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Why Authoritative Parenting Style Doesn’t Always Work

    You know Sana, right? The girl who seemed to have it all? Head of the class, amazing athlete, involved in everything. Everyone thought, “Wow, her parents must be doing something right!” But here’s the thing no one knew: Sana was secretly miserable. She stayed up way too late studying, practically having breakdowns before every major test. She was terrified that one wrong move, one less-than-perfect grade, would disappoint everyone who thought she was amazing.

    The thing is, Sana’s parents weren’t mean. They weren’t the yelling or punishing type. They truly loved her and wanted her to succeed. Their style was what everyone calls “authoritative parenting.” They expected a lot but were also kind and open with Sana. It sounds like a good approach, right? And it often is! But even when parents do everything “right,” things can still go wrong. Sana’s story shows us why.

    Here’s where I want to be clear: most parents who try this style genuinely mean well. They just get tangled up in wanting the absolute best for their kids, and sometimes, that pressure goes too far. It might not even be obvious right away, but subtly over time, it wears a kid down.

    Understanding Authoritative Parenting

    anonymous black woman with daughter sitting on bed near retro alarm clock

    Okay, let’s break down the idea of “authoritative parenting.” It’s a little confusing, right? Because the word “authoritative” sounds kind of strict, but this style isn’t supposed to be mean or harsh.

    Picture it like this: Authoritative parents set high standards, but they aren’t dictators. Here’s what it boils down to:

    • High Expectations: These parents want to see their kids do their best. It’s less about getting straight A’s all the time, and more about work ethic. They expect kids to be responsible, try hard at school, and be good citizens – you know, be respectful, helpful that sort of thing.
    • Clear Boundaries: Think of these like the rules of the road. Authoritative parents aren’t wishy-washy – kids know there are rules, and if they break them, there are consequences. They aren’t yelling about every little thing, but if curfew is broken, for example, there’s a clear, predictable response.
    • Warmth and Responsiveness: This is crucial! These parents aren’t robots. They love their kids deeply, show it, and are actively involved in their lives. They’re the type who listen when their kid has a problem and genuinely try to help.
    • Some Freedom of Choice: Authoritative parents aren’t aiming to raise kids who blindly obey. They want kids to have some say in things that affect them. Maybe letting a child pick their own extracurriculars, or having family meetings where everyone has input on the weekend plans.

    See, taken individually, none of this sounds bad, right? It’s easy to picture why experts recommend this parenting style. The problem, as we saw with Sana’s story, is that real life is messy, and even well-meaning approaches can backfire.

    The Darker Side of “Perfect”

    Let’s go back to Sana. Remember, from the outside, she had it all. Grades, athletics, the whole package. But on the inside? She was a mess. The pressure to always be on top started to eat her alive. It wasn’t just about doing well; she felt like she had to be the absolute best, or everything would fall apart. Then came college. Suddenly, she wasn’t surrounded by the same familiar faces, the parents whose expectations she’d spent her life trying to live up to. Suddenly, she was just…Sana, not Sana the star student. And that’s when her hidden anxiety went into overdrive.

    man wearing red crew neck sweater

    The scary thing is, Sana isn’t some unusual case. Her story happens all the time – kids pushed so hard to be “perfect” that something inside them snaps. And here’s why authoritative parenting, despite its good reputation, can sometimes lead exactly to this:

    • Compliance vs. Conscience: Authoritative parents set rules, and their kids generally follow them. But here’s the problem: sometimes kids end up doing the right things for the wrong reasons. They’re not motivated by truly understanding why something is important, just by avoiding punishment or getting the reward of parental approval. They lack an inner compass.
    • The Terror of Failing: When the expectation is always “succeed,” failure becomes terrifying. Mistakes aren’t seen as a normal step in learning, but as a disaster. These kids get paralyzed by perfectionism, or worse, avoid taking healthy risks because the fear of messing up is so overwhelming.
    • Lost in a Sea of Choices: Kids raised with a lot of parental guidance can struggle when it’s time to make their own choices. They’re so used to being told what to do, a little freedom can be paralyzing. What class to take, what major, even what to order for dinner – suddenly these things feel enormous.
    • A Hidden Crack in the Connection: Even the most well-meaning parents can fall into this trap. When so much time and energy are spent on school work, activities, always pushing towards the next goal, something gets lost. Kids might start to feel their parents only love them when they perform, leading to resentment or a sense of never being quite “good enough.”
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    It’s important to say: none of this means authoritative parenting is guaranteed to damage your child. But these dangers are real, and they’re why we need to be careful not to turn parenting into one big race for external achievements.

    The Reasons Authoritative Parenting Can Backfire

    Why does this happen? It boils down to a few key issues:

    strict female teacher with book pointing at scribbled blackboard

    1. Unrealistic Expectations: The Genius Trap

    Every kid has a ceiling on what they can realistically achieve. Some kids are naturally whizzes at math, others are athletic powerhouses. But here’s the thing parents often forget: pushing a child way past their natural limits rarely creates a happy, well-functioning person. More often, it leads to burnout, resentment, and an unhealthy sense of self-worth tied to performance.

    Think about it: even pro athletes get to take breaks! Forcing kids to endlessly strive for a level of achievement they can’t sustain is a recipe for a miserable childhood at best, and damaged mental health at worst.

    2. Focus on Compliance Over Internalization: The Robot Child Syndrome

    Authoritative parents, because they mean well, can fall into this trap: valuing outward obedience over whether their child genuinely understands “why” behind the rules. A kid might get straight A’s but cut corners by cheating when no one’s looking. They might volunteer at the soup kitchen because they know it looks good on college applications, not because they’ve developed genuine empathy.

    There’s a difference between a child who obeys to avoid punishment and one who acts rightly because they’ve internalized the values behind those actions. It’s great for kids to follow rules, but shouldn’t the goal be raising good people, not just well-programmed robots?

    3. Inadvertent Emotional Neglect: Lost in the Achievement Shuffle

    When everything revolves around grades, trophies, and that elusive acceptance letter from the “right” college, it’s incredibly easy for kids’ emotional needs to get overlooked. Anxious kids might get tutoring instead of tools to manage their worries. Sad kids might be told to perk up because “they have nothing to be sad about.” Even kids who just need down-time might hear “there’s no time to relax; you need to keep studying!”

    The problem is, emotional health is the foundation of everything. Without it, kids might look successful for a while, but they are far more likely to become adults struggling with anxiety, depression, or an inability to manage everyday frustrations that have nothing to do with being book smart.

    Finding the Balance: Alternatives Worth Considering

    Let’s be real for a moment: parenting is HARD. And a lot of the time, we’re just trying our best, right? This isn’t about making parents feel bad or saying there’s one magical “right” way to do everything. But sometimes, we need a gentle reminder that our kids aren’t robots we’re programming for success, they’re people! So, how do we find that balance? How do we help our kids thrive without the pressure crushing them? Here are a few ideas:

    shallow focus photo of balance stones
    • Shifting from Control to Connection: We all want our kids to make good choices, but sometimes we focus so much on telling them what to do, we forget to just connect with them. Make some time where it’s not about homework or chores or which extracurriculars look good on a resume. Simply hang out with your child, listen to them, be silly together – remind them that you love them for who they are, not just when they win.
    • Fostering Self-Trust: No parent can protect their child from every mistake in life. And actually, we shouldn’t! Let your kids make their own choices sometimes (age-appropriate ones, obviously). Did they pick a super hard class and now they’re overwhelmed? That’s a natural consequence! Help them problem-solve but let them experience that sometimes their own judgment gets them into a pickle. This builds the kind of resilience no amount of tutoring can.
    • Empathetic Discipline: We all fall short sometimes. When your kid messes up, try to ditch the anger and shift into teacher-mode. Instead of just yelling about broken curfew, ask, “Okay, that didn’t work out so well. How might you approach this differently next time?” You’re still holding them accountable, but you’re also building their critical thinking instead of just breeding fear of punishment.
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    These are just starting points, of course. Every kid is different, every family is different. But the common thread is this: let’s shift our thinking a bit away from the trophies and report cards, and more towards fostering strong, connected, confident kids. That’s the real win!

    Real-World Examples: When Good Intentions Go Awry

    Sometimes the best way to understand these pitfalls is with examples. Let’s shift our focus from Sana to two other scenarios:

    Aarav, the People-Pleaser

    On the surface, Aarav seemed like a success story. Nice kid, decent grades, always helpful. His parents were proud they’d raised such a considerate kid. But there was a problem: Aarav rarely said no to anything. Taking on too many commitments? He’d never complain. Friend dumping drama on him? He’d listen for hours, even if he was exhausted.

    Why? Deep down, Aarav learned that his value came from making others happy. Not intentionally, of course! But when you constantly hear “I’m so proud you always put others first,” or “You’re such a good listener,” a sensitive kid might start to believe those things define their worth. Eventually, Aarav lost sight of his own wants and needs entirely. He was the classic people-pleaser, and while everyone liked him, he was secretly miserable.

    Maya, the Lost Soul

    Maya was kind of the opposite. Her parents loved her and gave her tons of space to be herself. They figured she was smart, and she’d find her way. And Maya did well enough – got decent grades without stressing too much. But there was a drifting quality to her life. She never seemed excited about anything. Come college application time, she was totally overwhelmed by all the choices and unsure what she even wanted.

    It wasn’t that Maya was lazy. But with no structure or expectations, she never learned the skill of setting goals and working towards them. Her parents thought they were doing the right thing by letting her be so independent, but what she really needed was guidance to discover her own passions and develop some inner drive.

    The Takeaway

    Aarav and Maya’s stories show us that the authoritative style isn’t foolproof. Aarav’s outcome is a stark reminder that always focusing on outward achievement can lead to a kid losing track of who they are. He needed less focus on pleasing others, and more help developing a backbone. Maya’s situation illustrates that warmth and openness aren’t enough. Kids still need their parents to act as guides sometimes, to help them discover what lights their fire and give them the tools to pursue it.

    It’s Not About Being a “Bad” Parent

    Look, it’s no secret that the world we live in is obsessed with achievement. From the time kids are tiny, we compare them: who crawled first, who read the fastest, who scored the most goals in soccer. As parents, it’s hard not to get swept up in it. We want our kids to succeed. We want them to have every opportunity in life. Loving parents see the authoritative approach, with its emphasis on standards and helping kids reach their potential, and think, “Yes! That’s the ticket!”

    silhouette photography of jump shot of two persons

    But here’s where things get tricky:

    • The Success Trap: Our society equates “good parenting” with highly visible wins. Getting into a great college, winning awards, all those things that look impressive to other adults. Suddenly, parenting feels like a competition, and even the most loving parents can slip into micromanaging every aspect of their child’s life, trying to orchestrate that perfect outcome.
    • Seeking External Validation: We want to feel like we’re doing this parenting thing right. And in a world full of mommy bloggers and braggy Facebook posts about kids getting scholarships, it’s easy to measure our own worth as a parent by our child’s external accomplishments. Did they get the solo in the school play? Awesome, post about it! Did they bomb that science fair? Yikes, that feels embarrassing.
    • What Gets Overlooked: In chasing that external validation, we unintentionally neglect the stuff that really matters in the long run. Is our child kind? Are they curious? Do they know how to handle setbacks? Can they just relax and be silly? These things aren’t easy to put on a resume, but they are what pave the way for a happy, fulfilling adult life.
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    See, the irony is, trying too hard to guarantee our kids’ success can often be the very thing that gets in their way of discovering real, lasting fulfilment.

    The Path to a More Balanced Approach

    Okay, so what do we DO with this information? The key is finding that sweet spot between helping our kids thrive, but also letting them breathe and become their own unique selves. Here are some ideas to get you started:

    • Praise the Process, Not Just the Product: Instead of only freaking out about the final grade on a test, make a big deal out of the effort that went into it. “Wow, you spent so much time studying, that’s awesome!” or “I’m proud you went for extra help when you were struggling.” This teaches kids that hard work matters more than always being the smartest person in the room.
    • Embrace Imperfection: It’s okay for your kid to occasionally get a less-than-stellar grade. Let their room be a total disaster sometimes. If they pick a college major that makes you secretly think “what are they going to DO with that?”, try to bite your tongue. A little healthy imperfection builds resilience!
    • Protect Their Downtime: Kids NEED unscheduled time. Time to get bored, to daydream, to invent goofy games with their siblings. Boredom actually sparks creativity! Overscheduling every waking minute might seem productive, but it robs them of space to figure out who they are outside of adult expectations.
    • Own Your Mistakes: Don’t try to put on that “perfect parent” facade. If you yelled when you shouldn’t have, apologize. If you’re stressed about work and snappy, say, “Mommy’s having a rough day, but that’s no excuse to be grumpy.” Kids learn way more from seeing us navigate our flaws imperfectly than they do from thinking we’re superhuman.
    • Get Help If You Need It: Parenting is HARD. There’s no shame in reaching out to a therapist or a good parenting group. Just talking to other people struggling with the same things can be a lifesaver. Sometimes, we need to work through our own anxieties, so they don’t infect the way we parent.

    Remember, this is a journey, not a checklist. Give yourself some grace and extend that grace to your child too!

    Conclusion: Love is the Cornerstone

    See, we live in a world that makes us feel like if our kids don’t achieve those specific markers of “success,” they’ve failed, and we’ve failed as parents. From kindergarten, the pressure is on – the competitive preschools, the endless activities, the college admissions frenzy. It’s enough to make any well-meaning parent go a little crazy!

    Here’s the thing: when we buy too deeply into this fear, it changes how we parent. We lose sight of the bigger picture. We start prioritizing things that might look sparkly from the outside but actually erode our kids’ spirits from the inside.

    Think of it this way: what do we really want for our kids? Deep down, most parents just want them to be happy, fulfilled adults. But here’s what too many of us forget:

    • The CEO Myth: Raising a future CEO sounds cool, but that’s not a fulfilling path for most people! We need kind teachers, passionate artists, skilled tradespeople… the world needs all sorts! Success isn’t confined to a corner office.
    • The Ivy League Trap: Those elite colleges are great, for some kids. But they’re not the only path, and they’re not the right fit for everyone. Pressuring a kid who doesn’t thrive in that environment is a recipe for misery.

    So, what if we flip the script entirely? What if “successful parenting” means:

    • Resilient Kids: Kids who can bounce back from setbacks, not break down when things get hard. That’s built through failures, not by us always rescuing them.
    • Know Thyself: Kids who know what they enjoy, what they’re good at, and what values matter to them. That’s found through exploration, not us micromanaging their choices.
    • Permission to Mess Up: Kids who aren’t terrified of mistakes and view them as learning opportunities. That comes from feeling unconditionally loved, even when they fall short.

    It sounds radical, but sometimes the greatest gift we can give our child is the space to truly become themselves, to forge their own path, even if it veers from the one we might’ve imagined. It’s the scariest thing in the world to let go, but it’s also the most beautiful form of success.


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