The downside of overly permissive parenting

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Are you a parent who believes in giving your child the freedom to explore and make their own choices? While fostering independence is important, could an overly permissive parenting style be doing more harm than good?

A man holding a laundry basket balances a toddler on his hip while another child playfully clings to his leg in a messy living room.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Permissive parenting is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, often alongside images of free-range kids roaming wild and parents watching from a distance. But is this hands-off approach really as idyllic as it seems? It’s great to raise an independent child; however, there’s a fine line between nurturing your child’s growth and leaving them to navigate the world without guidance.

The origins of permissiveness

Before getting into the drawbacks, here’s a quick trip down memory lane to understand how permissive parenting came to be. Back in the 1960s, amidst social and cultural revolutions, parenting norms started to shift. The authoritarian parenting style, with its strict rules and discipline, fell out of favor, making way for a more liberal approach.

Enter permissive parenting, championed by psychologists like Diana Baumrind. This style emphasized warmth and acceptance with a more child-centered approach. Traditional values were being questioned, and there was a push for more freedom and individual expression. Suddenly, parents were encouraged to be more lenient without imposing too many restrictions on their kids.

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Why it seems appealing

The appeal of permissive parenting is undeniable. It feels liberating to embrace a more laid-back parenting approach with minimal rules and a relaxed atmosphere. According to research in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, permissive parents are warmer and more nurturing, prioritizing nonpunitive environments with lots of bonding opportunities with their children. They value their children’s individuality and let them be who they truly are. 

Two children happily jumping on a couch, while a man and woman sit on the floor, looking stressed.
Photo credit: YayImages.

The flip side

While the idea of a stress-free, child-led utopia sounds enticing, the same research and many others point out significant downsides to permissive parenting. Here are some common pitfalls to consider.

No sense of boundaries

A lack of discipline and structure in a child’s life can set the stage for future challenges. Without clear guidance and expectations, children may struggle to develop the self-control and responsibility necessary for navigating the complexities of the world around them. This leads to struggles in understanding acceptable behavior, resulting in chaos and confusion.

Entitlement issues

When children grow up in an environment where they always get what they want, they can develop a sense of entitlement. They may expect instant gratification and struggle to cope with disappointment or setbacks. 

Difficulty with authority

In a permissive household, children may not learn to respect authority figures or follow rules outside the home. This can lead to challenges in school, social settings and, eventually, the workplace. After all, the world doesn’t operate on a free-for-all basis   there are rules to follow and consequences for breaking them.

Emotional regulation issues

Without consistent boundaries and parental support, children may struggle with emotional regulation. They may have difficulty managing their feelings or coping with stress and adversity. 

A teacher comforting a distressed student in a classroom while other students engage in conversation in the background.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Negative impact on academic and social development

Additionally, overly permissive parenting can negatively impact a child’s academic and social development. Children who are not taught boundaries may struggle to stay focused in school, leading to poor academic performance. Without clear guidelines at home, they may not understand the importance of completing tasks or following rules, which can hinder their educational progress.

In terms of social development, children raised in overly permissive environments may have difficulty interacting with their peers. They may lack the social skills needed to form strong friendships or navigate conflicts effectively. Without the structure provided by boundaries, children may not learn how to compromise, communicate or cooperate with others, which can harm their ability to build lasting relationships.

“I’ve come across many parents with the permissive parenting style in my 16 years of raising kids. Children who are raised without any kind of boundaries and can get whatever they want soon run into issues when they mingle with other kids. I’ve noticed that most children avoid children who are raised like that because if they don’t understand compromise or cooperation and want everything their own way, then they are not fun to have around.” 

— Anna Marikar, Crunchy Family

Finding the balance

Finding balance in parenting is essential. By combining elements from different approaches, you can create a well-rounded strategy. When a child’s safety is concerned, the authoritarian parenting style is a must, with no room for deviation. On the other hand, the warmth and nurturing attributes of permissive parenting play a vital role in fostering emotional intelligence and building strong relationships. 

Authoritative parenting, often considered the gold standard, strikes a balance between the two styles by setting high expectations while providing support and guidance. Finding the right balance between permissiveness and structure is key to fostering a healthy and thriving family dynamic.

One last thing

Ultimately, parenting is a journey of constant learning and adaptation. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. While permissive parenting offers warmth and freedom, it’s essential to be mindful of the potential drawbacks. By finding the right balance between freedom and structure, you can raise confident, independent children who are equipped to navigate life’s twists and turns. 

Tamara Tsaturyan is the owner and writer of Thriving In Parenting, a website focused on providing simple tips for busy parents — easy and healthy recipes, home decor and organization ideas and all things parenting.

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