What type of parent are you?

Are you a tiger mom or a free-range parent? Do you hover like a helicopter, or smooth the way like a lawnmower? Check out the common parenting styles and their ups and downsides

22 May 2019
4 minute read

couple with baby

What kind of parent are you? Are you the free-wheeling flexible kind? Or the over-involved controlling kind? Or somewhere in between? We take a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) look at some of the common parenting styles, and their pros and cons. See if you recognise yourself in this mix.

Helicopter parentHelicopter parents hover over their children, keeping a sharp eye on their every move. At the first sign of trouble, down they swoop to save the day. The term became popular in the 1990s, to describe parents (usually middle-class parents) who tend to be over-involved and over-protective, in a way that might be considered too much or age inappropriate. Teachers and others who work with kids say that the helicopter parent is still very much in evidence, not always to the child’s benefit.

Pros and cons
Helicopter parents are often supportive, loving and good at communicating with their kids. That’s the upside. The downside is that their constant attention gives the message that they don’t think the child is able to cope, assess risk and make good choices themselves. Anxiety, dependency and a lack of confidence and determination can result.

Ask yourself: is this something that is so important, challenging or risky that it requires a parent to be involved? Or is it something that a child this age should be able to assess and handle themselves?

It’s important to amend your approach as your child grows. For example, if you are interfering in relationships between your teen and their peers or doing tasks that a teen should reasonably be doing themselves, you might want to reconsider your level of involvement.


Lawnmower parentDo you mow down all obstacles and smooth the way on your kids’ path through life? You could be a lawnmower parent. There’s been a lot in the news recently about wealthy celebrity parents in the USA who basically lied, cheated and paid their kids’ way into top colleges - they might be considered an extreme example of lawnmower parents.

Pros and cons
The pros and cons are similar to those of helicopter parenting. A little bit of gentle smoothing of the terrain might be loving and helpful and allow children to develop their confidence without being overwhelmed by obstacles. But too much, and you can be robbing the kids of the chance to test their own capabilities. Everyone needs to try and occasionally fail and face the consequences. That’s how they learn grit and determination.

Smoothing the way too much might convey the message that parents don’t have faith in the child and their abilities. The child, in turn, lacks confidence and competence.

Tiger momYou are reading this with the sound of a violin in the background. Your child is busy with his hour-a-day of practicing scales, before he settles in to drill his maths and spelling. Could be, you’re a tiger parent.

This somewhat draconian style of parenting was first described by Chinese American mom Amy Chua in her best-selling book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It’s based, she says, on the traditional Chinese parenting style rather than the more liberal American model. Characteristics of this approach include high expectations - A grades in school, excellence in musical instruments - and emphasis on values such as hard work, the pursuit of excellence, respect and obedience to parents. No time for such frivolities as play dates, screens and entertaining extramural activities.

Pros and cons
Your child is likely to be accomplished and successful, with plenty of impressive achievements to pad out that CV. But there’s always the danger that they will rebel and go completely the other way! This kind of parenting can also lead to high levels of conflict with less-compliant children, as parents are drawn into using threats and coercion to get kids to toe the line. There may also be social implications, if kids are not given the time or space to hang out with the peer group and flex their social muscles.

Free-range parentYou’re not quite sure what your kids are up to right now, but you’re pretty sure they’re fine. Free-range parenting is the very antithesis of tiger parenting. These parents believe that freedom is great for kids and lets them develop resilience and independence. Left to their own devices (not those devices) children will grow up physically strong and adventurous, and able to entertain themselves, solve problems, and think creatively.

Pros and cons
Like all parenting styles, there are advantages and disadvantages, and success depends on balance. There are definite positives - children enjoy the freedom to explore and learn and develop all sorts of physical and social skills as a result. At the extreme edge, though, this kind of parenting might slip into being somewhat neglectful. Children need guidance and an appropriate level of parental input and intervention. They might feel unsupported by their hands-off parents. There are also real risks - kids might make very bad decisions and can even endanger themselves.

Parent your wayThere are many ways to be a good parent, and there are pros and cons to any parenting style. No matter how good your intentions, it is possible to go too far in any direction. The trick is to be aware of your child’s needs, their age and stage, and give them the right mix of support and freedom to safely grow and thrive.

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