An Unholy Trinity

In the 1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind noticed that behaviorally, preschool children could be sorted into three predominant categories. She reverse-engineered this observation into definitions of the three major parenting styles.

The first two are authoritative and authoritarian. It is unfortunate that Baumrind did not pick a different descriptor for one of those, because they sound confusingly alike. Her third category of parenting was permissive, and colleagues of hers have added a fourth classification: neglectful.

Baumrind’s trio

Authoritative parents have high expectations, and pay high dividends. This style produces kids with well-developed social skills, who tend to be non-violent. They have more self-esteem and independence, less mental illness, higher academic performance, and lower delinquency rates.

Authoritarianism also asks a lot, but gives back little. The kids are less independent, have lower self-esteem, and don’t do as well in school. Children of authoritarian parents may have well-honed social skills that tend more toward manipulation than diplomacy. This parenting mode increases the likelihood of mental illness, substance abuse, and delinquency.

With the permissive style, you get egocentric, impulsive kids with poor social skills, and from there it’s really a spectrum into neglect. Broadly speaking, the permissive parent cares very much, but implements that feeling in counterproductive ways. The neglectful parent just plain doesn’t care. The outcomes are impulsivity and delinquency, along with probable substance abuse and possible suicide.

Julie Lythcott-Haims explains these styles in her book How to Raise an Adult, concluding:

The authoritative parenting style is what we need to be aiming for. That’s highly demanding, high expectations, and highly responsive to our kids’ needs and concerns.

Childhood Obesity News recently quoted Dr. Pretlow on the role of stress as a destabilizing influence in a young life, and as a contributor to the onset of eating disorders. Similarly, within her decade of service as Stanford University’s dean of freshmen, Lythcott-Haims found that a lot of kids had issues stemming from unpreparedness for autonomy.

This is not surprising. Many 18-year-olds are shockingly unprepared for real life. In previous centuries, people embarked on adulthood at much younger ages, and somehow figured it out. But in the present-day Western world, very few of us arrive at nominal maturity with solid training for a wide range of life contingencies.

We all seem to be making it up as we go along. We don’t have the life skills to cope with staying healthy and fit, because all our energy goes into coping with a hundred other things we are not ready for.

Meanwhile, the 14-year-olds are thinking, “I can’t wait to be a grownup and do whatever I want, anything at all, every day.” The joke is on them.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!


If you have a child between the ages of 14 and 18 years that is overweight and can read English, you may be eligible for a clinical research study at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA) that is currently recruiting participants. Please visit for more information.

Source: “4 Parenting Styles — Characteristics And Effects [Infographic],”, undated
Source: “A former Stanford dean explains the difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting,”, 10/27/16
Photo credit: dynamosquito on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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