Early in 2015, researchers concluded that genes and the environment play an equal role in human development based on the results obtained of over 50 years of research with 14.5 million sets of twins, putting rest to the infamous nature-nurture debate [1].  While conscious lifestyle choices can control the phenotype of our genetics to a certain extent, parents have a greater scope to work with when it comes to the environment a child grows up in. This possibility to create an environment leading to mentally and physically well individuals who are able to strive and work to the best of their ability starts with our caregivers’ parenting styles.

Maccoby and Martin developed a four-typology model from Baumrind’s initial tripartite model of authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting by adding the dimensions of responsiveness (parental warmth and acceptance) and demandingness (parental firmness) [2]. Thus, the four parenting styles are: authoritative—responsive and demanding; neglectful—neither responsive nor demanding; indulgent-permissive—responsive but not demanding; and lastly, authoritarian—demanding but not responsive [2].  It is the responsibility of parents today to adapt parenting styles that create environments that foster growth and both the physical and mental well-being; however, due to differences in Western and Eastern cultures, research demonstrates that effective parenting styles vary.

Neglectful and indulgent-permissive parenting styles both have shown through various studies in both individualistic and collectivistic cultures to have an overall negative impact on children.

Neglectful parents tend to be emotionally unavailable for their children and do not use any form of discipline [3]. Children of neglectful parents have the worst outcomes in categories of social or cognitive competence, academic performance, and psychological well-being. They also tend to exhibit more problem behaviour in comparison to children raised with other parenting styles [3].

Indulgent-permissive parenting is characterized by parents who do not want to repress their children in any manner; this results in high social competence and self-esteem, but relatively low achievement and school engagement alongside high rates of problem behaviors and drug use [3, 4].

The negative physiological effects of problem behaviours and substance abuse interacting with inherent vulnerable genetic phenotypes can lead to a continuous accumulating risk of mental disorders [9].

The authoritative parenting style is all about encouragement, explaining the reasoning behind actions and decisions, and setting standards of conduct for children. This style illustrates the egalitarian relationship dynamics found in North-American and Western-European individualistic cultures in which authoritative parenting leads to the best results: high psychosocial competence, higher aspirations, greater academic success and low measures of psychological and behavioural dysfunction [3, 4].

In individualistic cultures, authoritarian parenting results in children rebelling due to the imposed discipline which opposes the egalitarian values of the individualistic culture leading to low social competence and low self-esteem [3]. However, this does not hold true in collectivistic cultures like East Asia, Latin America, and Africa where hierarchical relationship are of greater importance. For collectivistic cultures, there appears to be much variation. While authoritarian parenting brings about greater academic success and social competence, there is not enough evidence of its effects on mental health [5, 6, 7].

In spite of their discoveries, studies investigating the relationship between culture and parenting styles display inconsistency, misleading ethnocentric standards, and are layered with complex biases. Inconsistent results may be due to improper conceptualization and operationalization of cultural variables [8]. For instance, when it comes to collectivistic cultures, the effect of extraneous variables like socioeconomic status and society’s inherent, traditional socialization goals are more prevalent, thus making studies examining parenting style and mental wellness even more complex.  

In conclusion, it has been established as a cultural universal that neglectful and indulgent-permissive parenting are detrimental and ineffective styles. In individualistic, Westernized societies, authoritative parenting has proven to be the most effective with authoritarian parenting following close behind. In collectivistic cultures, authoritarian parenting is dominant but there is insufficient research done to establish any link between psychological and behavioural function with the authoritarian parenting style. Studies about collectivistic cultures are generally ethnocentric, therefore culture-specific patterns may not be captured by standard research methodology, biasing potential results. While the cultural link better qualifies which parenting style may be most effective, it is important to recognize the temperament of the child as well, the other necessary component in the ongoing, bidirectional relationship of nature and nurture.


By: Shagun Kanwar

Edited by: Alisia Bonnick

Image by: Greg Westfall



[1] Dovey, D. (2015, May 22). Nature vs. Nurture Debate: 50-Year Twin Study Proves It Takes Two To Determine Human Traits. Medical Daily. Retrieved from http://www.medicaldaily.com/nature-vs-nurture-debate-50-year-twin-study-proves-it-takes-two-determine-human-334686

[2] Garcia, F., & Gracia, E. (2009). IS ALWAYS AUTHORITATIVE THE OPTIMUM PARENTING STYLE? EVIDENCE FROM SPANISH FAMILIES. Retrieved from http://www.uv.es/garpe/C_/A_/C_A_0037.pdf

[3] Pellerin, L. A. (2005). Applying Baumrind’s parenting typology to high schools: toward a middle-range theory of authoritative socialization [Abstract]. Social Science Research, 34(2), 283-303. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2004.02.003

[4] Lamborn, S. D., Mounts, N. S., Steinberg, L., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1991). Patterns of Competence and Adjustment among Adolescents from Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful Families [Abstract]. Child Development, 62(5), 1049-1065. doi:0.1111/j.1467-8624.1991.tb01588.x

[5] Dwairy, M., & Menshar, K. E. (2006). Parenting style, individuation, and mental health of Egyptian adolescents [Abstract]. Journal of Adolescence, 29(1), 103-117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2005.03.002

[6] Chao, R. K. (1994). Beyond Parental Control and Authoritarian Parenting Style: Understanding Chinese Parenting through the Cultural Notion of Training [Abstract]. Child Development, 65(4), 1111-1119. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1994.tb00806.x

[7] Dwairy, M., & Achoui, M. (2009). Parental Control: A Second Cross-Cultural Research on Parenting and Psychological Adjustment of Children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(1), 16-22. doi:10.1007/s10826-009-9334-2

[8] Lim, S., & Lim, B. K. (2008). Parenting Style and Child Outcomes in Chinese and Immigrant Chinese Families-Current Findings and Cross-Cultural Considerations in Conceptualization and Research [Abstract]. Marriage & Family Review, 35(3-4), 21-43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J002v35n03_03

[9] Repetti, R. L., Taylor, S. E., & Seeman, T. E. (2002). Risky families: Family social environments and the mental and physical health of offspring. [Abstract]. Psychological Bulletin, 128(2), 330-366. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.128.2.330