One way that researchers over the last half century have tried to organize that complexity is to simplify it to three basic dimensions: warmth, behavioral control, and psychological control1. Together, these dimensions describe parenting style.
- Warmth refers to the extent to which parents convey their love and emotional support for the child. It can also be thought of as the extent to which parents recognize the unique needs of the child and understand that different people have different feelings and needs.
- Behavioral control refers to the extent to which parents ask kids to constrain their behavior to meet the needs of others. Strictness is one way to think about it, but I think it is better conceptualized as the parents’ expectation that the child conform to high standard—especially when it’s difficult. It also captures the extent to which parents follow through on rules they set.
- Psychological control, sometimes called psychological intrusiveness, is the extent to which parents try to control the child’s emotional state or beliefs. For example, they may use guilt induction or make the child feel that they won’t be loved if they don’t do what parents want. The core of psychological control is that it assualts the child’s self.
Parenting characterized by both high warmth and high control (authoritative parenting) is associated with good child outcomes. Children of parents who are both warm and high in behavioral control tend to do well in school, have high self-esteem, be independent, and have strong friendships.
Psychological control is not. Parents who are high in psychological control have kids who tend to be depressed, have low self-esteem, be anxious and lonely. They are also more likely to be involved in anti-social behavior and delinquency.