Focus on the Family

Why Permissive Parenting Falls Short

Does the permissive parenting style work? Learn more about the practical side of this parenting style and its potential risks and pitfalls.

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Is there ever a time when a permissive parenting style makes sense? The answer is a bit complicated. Some studies try to suggest that the permissive parenting style can be helpful to your child’s development.

Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

However, scripture and most statistics point to a higher likelihood of various issues in your child from a permissive parenting style. Here are some of the risks a permissive parenting style creates:

What is Permissive Parenting?

The permissive parenting style involves high levels of sensitivity and warmth with minimal to absent levels of boundaries or limits. In other words, no training up of a child. With a youth mental health crisis upon us, I have noticed more parents carrying the false and damaging assumption that easing up on limits and demandingness leads to a healthier mental health in their children.

Proverbs 15:31 says, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.”

Proverbs 10:17 says, “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” The wisdom from Proverbs emphasizes the life-giving role biblical and intentional instruction and guidance can play in a child’s development.

4 Types of Permissive Parents

Throughout more than two decades as a family therapist, I have discovered four types of permissive parents:

  • Fearful – Parents that are afraid of upsetting their children with limits and boundaries. They are afraid of seeing their kids upset, struggling, stressed, and/or in any kind of pain.
  • Insecure – Parents that do not want to lose their children’s love and want to be their best friend. 
  • Distracted – Parents that have a lot to do, are tired, and don’t have the energy to provide limits and guidance. They are busy pursuing excitement, careers, and/or money to take the time to provide their children with consistent and healthy boundaries.
  • Misinformed – Parents who have read or heard that letting your kids just “figure it out” is the way to go.

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The Cost of Being Happy

One common theme for permissive parents is that their main goal is for their children to just “be happy” and to pursue their own deserved happiness. Commercials and cultural messages seem to affirm this worldview even though happiness is subjective and illusive.  

Happiness usually comes because of healthy relationships, healthy decision-making, and a healthy perspective. But how can kids learn what is healthy without training, guidance on boundaries or learning the difference from right and wrong? Or without learning how to consider other people’s emotions carefully and attentively. Not to mention how to handle their own emotions beyond their own feeling of happiness.

I love what Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”

Discipline is truly a loving act from a parent to a child. Proverbs has many other passages that emphasize the importance of discipline, guidance, instruction, and direction.

Training a Child

The following are some examples of great goals to train a child in the way they should go (and go beyond happiness).

As a result, even though high levels of warmth and sensitivity that are found in the permissive parenting style are foundational to attachment and relationships there is a key foundation missing – direction and training.

Your child needs loving biblical guidance, demandingness, and boundaries to mature and grow in their character, resilience, and healthy prosocial behaviors. This is training a child the way they should go, so they will not depart from it.

Is There a Better Option?

Scripture and research consistently point to high levels of warmth and sensitivity balanced with high levels of demandingness and boundaries as the most ideal parenting style, which is the authoritative parenting style and the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting.

Interestingly, permissive parenting can be effective in some cases, but mainly after parents have first used a consistent authoritative parenting style (the 7 Traits) throughout their children’s early developmental years. In this case, children have learned through guidance and within boundaries and limits how to reach for the better thoughts and make healthy decisions so they can be trusted and given freedoms as they get older.

Children in this scenario are providing the necessary boundaries themselves rather than adults or others needing to put the boundaries on them and are displaying evidence of training within their character.

Go here to learn more about the permissive parenting style and the other three parenting styles. There you can also learn more about the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting, which are based off the extensive research on secure attachment and the authoritative parenting style. 

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