Happiness For Dummies
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How your raise you children doesn’t just affect how happy they’ll be; it affects how they perform in school, whether they take up smoking, how likely it is they’ll suffer from depression, and whether they engage in risky sexual behavior.

According to psychologists who study this sort of thing, there are four main styles of parenting: autocratic, authoritative, permissive, and unengaged. The styles differ in terms of how much involvement you have in your child’s life and how much control you try to exert over your child’s behavior.

Parenting styles are learned patterns of behavior — which means they can be unlearned at any point in life if you choose.

Have each of your kids review the following parenting styles and ask them which one they think fits you. Don’t be surprised — and, more important, don’t be defensive — if they have a different view of how you parent. Ask them to explain their answer. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between what you and your kids think.


Autocratic parents tend to be involved in their children’s lives only so far as rules and punishment are concerned. They decide what the child does, who the child can be friends with, where the child is supposed to be, and ultimately what the child’s life is going to be.

There is little, if any, back-and-forth dialogue between autocratic parents and their kids — everything is a lecture that embodies the message, “It’s my way or the highway!” Children raised by autocratic parents aren’t happy, but they are angry and afraid — the fear is evident, and their anger is often suppressed. How do they view their parents? As cold, harsh, and rejecting — not a very pretty picture.

If you want to know if you’re an autocratic parent, read the following statement and answer true or false:

“As a parent, I most often make the decisions about my child’s behavior.”

If you answered true, you’re an autocratic parent.


If you’re an authoritative parent, you’re highly involved in your children’s lives and you’re not afraid to exert a reasonable amount of control over their behavior. You’re nice, but firm. You have a presence in their lives — doing things with them and showing up for things that are important. There is no mistake who is the parent and who is the child, even when they reach their adolescent years.

You actually foster independence and self-reliance, which increase with age. You teach your children to be civil and responsible in dealings with others, including family members. You allow your children to find their voice and verbalize their own opinions, needs, wants, fears, and life goals. You punish when it’s called for — sending your children to a timeout or grounding them.

If you want your child to be a nonsmoker, make good grades, enjoy positive mental health, and not engage in at-risk sex, this is definitely the style you want to choose.

“I ask my children their opinion but I generally end up making the decisions — for example, about curfew or at what age they can begin dating.”

If you answered true, you’re an authoritative parent.


This is the style of parenting that kids love — at least in the short run. Why? Simple: Permissive parents let their kids do as they please, come and go as they like, set their own rules — all in the name of love. Permissive parents are involved in their kids’ lives, to be sure, but in a hands-off kind of way.

They put few demands on their kids, set few if any limits on their social and emotional behavior, and allow them maximum independence. The one word that never comes out of the permissive parent’s mouth is no. It’s up to the kids to decide if smoking is bad for them. It’s up to the kids whether they do their homework.

How do children view their permissive parents? Kids think their parents are wonderful, cool, and their very best friends. Problem is, these kids also end up being moody, defiant, rebellious, and unable to handle life when they don’t get their way.

Are you a permissive parent? To find out, answer true or false to this statement:

“My kids may ask my opinion, but I generally leave it up to them to make their decisions.”

If you answered true, you’re definitely a permissive parent.


Unengaged parents are unaware of what their kids are up to, unavailable to them emotionally, and unwilling to assume their responsibilities as a parent beyond that of providing food and shelter, forcing them to attend school, and making sure they have the latest style tennis shoes. Unengaged parents come from all walks of life, from all demographic and socioeconomic groups.

Children of unengaged parents end up alienated from adults as well as peers. They have limited social and problem-solving skills and often use anger as a means of keeping others (whom they view as threatening) at a distance. They’re anything but happy. How do these kids see their parents? They don’t.

To see if this is your style of parenting, answer the following statement with true or false:

Do you know or care where your child is at all times?

If the answer is true, you’re an unengaged parent, and your kids are definitely at risk both to themselves and others. (These children can represent significant danger to society.)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, a distinguished Fellow in the American Psychological Association, and the Founding Editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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