There's no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. Though there are multiple parenting methods to examine, such as attachment, authoritative, and even gentle parenting, the pros and cons of permissive parenting can cause quite a bit of controversy.
What Is Permissive Parenting?
Permissive parenting is a parenting style that fosters an emotional bond rather than imposing or enforcing rules and limitations.
It's true that permissive parenting sometimes gets a bad reputation, but there are parts of this style (as well as situations) where it can be quite effective. A 2009 study in Spain found that adolescents who were brought up with a permissive (aka indulgent) parenting technique were rated equal to or better in the categories of self-esteem, competence, psychosocial maladjustment, and problem behaviors, compared to those whose parents followed an authoritative style.
According to clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind, permissive parents are "more responsive than they are demanding. They're nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation." With this type of parenting, the child does not have a bevy of rules; in fact, parents tend to be pretty hands-off and even act like more of a big sister or brother rather than a traditional mom or dad. While these children usually end up growing up independent, there are also cons like not having enough rules and challenging authority.
The Characteristics of Permissive Parenting
Like authoritarian parents, permissive parents are very responsive to their children. However, the difference becomes apparent when it comes to limitations and rules. Authoritarian parents are strict and set boundaries; permissive parents do not enforce rules (or sometimes even set them in the first place).
What works for one family may not work for another. It's also reasonable to say that some parents may be authoritative in some instances and permissive in others. Though there's not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution to parenting styles, the data shows that permissive parenting can certainly be effective in its own right. So when it comes to bringing up your children, perhaps it's worth considering being a little less strict once in a while (maybe even just with smaller things like TV consumption or snacking).
Permissive Parenting Pros and Cons
Pro: Better Communication
Communication can be more of a two-way street since parents and child both have a say and children do not feel nervous speaking their minds.
Pro: Improved Self-esteem
Because children know their parents will love them unconditionally—whether they mess up or not—their self-esteem may be higher than other children.
Better: Enhanced Imagination
Children are often encouraged to be creative, which can lead to the development of more hobbies and can spark a sense of imagination.
Pro: Increased Positivity
Conflict is minimized since parents tend to work around their child and their wants and needs.
Con: Risky Behavior
Some studies have found that this type of parenting technique can lead to risky behavior in older children, especially pertaining to alcohol use. A 2015 study found that permissive parenting combined with beer drinking are risk factors for alcohol abuse among adolescents and young adults.
Con: Undeveloped Coping Skills
This approach can also cause kids to internalize their problems rather than letting them out.
Con: Lack of Boundaries
Kids can have no real sense of boundaries since their parents react to their actions rather than impose sanctions in advance.
Children don't always understand the concept of respect since they tend not to defer to their parents or treat them with more reverence. This can especially become difficult in school, work, and other social settings.
Children are not used to hearing "no," so they can sometimes lash out when they hear this from authorities or elders outside of their home.
García F, Gracia E. Is Always Authoritative the Optimum Parenting Style? Evidence from Spanish Families. Adolescence. 2009;44(173):101-131.
Whitney N, Froiland J. Parenting Style, Gender, Beer Drinking and Drinking Problems of College Students. Intern J Psychol: A Biopsychosocial Approach. 2015;93-109. doi:10.7220/2345-024X.16.5