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How Parenting Styles Affect Children's Cognitive Growth

by Beth Greenwood

The way parents treat their children can have an effect on the children’s cognitive development. Physical abuse and neglect, for example, have been shown to have negative effects on early brain development that can persist into adolescence and adulthood, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Parenting styles can also affect cognitive development, although socioeconomic status may be a better predictor of cognitive development, according to a research paper on the Human Sciences Honor Society website

Parenting Styles

Parenting styles, according to a 2007 article in the “Journal of Education and Human Development,” are a mixture of demandingness and responsiveness. Psychologist Diana Baumrind identified three major parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. Authoritarian parents are high in demandingness but low in responsiveness. They demand that their children follow strict rules and they offer low responsiveness to their children’s needs; they may threaten harsh punishment. Permissive parents are high in responsiveness and low in demandingness. They do not set limits or goals, and they may indulge their children’s every whim or they may neglect their children’s needs. Authoritative parents balance demandingness and responsiveness, as they set limits and goals, but provide support when needed. A child knows what is expected of her and how to achieve those expectations; she knows the consequences of failing to meet expectations, but she has confidence in her ability to meet expectations.

Cognitive Development

Cognitive development relates to the ability of children and adolescents to think and reason, according to Stanford's Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. As a child grows, she begins to think in concrete ways, such as when she performs mathematical equations. In adolescence, she begins to use more complex thought processes such as reasoning, when she is considering multiple points of view and engaging in abstract thinking. As an adolescent grows, she will begin to develop her own ideas, question authority, form a personal code of ethics, make plans for the future and begin to consider abstract concepts such as justice or patriotism.

Authoritarian Parenting

Mothers who have an authoritarian parenting style tend to raise children with lower cognitive scores, according to a May/June 2009 article in “The Influence of Parenting Styles on Children’s Cognitive Development.” Mothers who were white, married and had higher levels of education and a higher family income raised children with higher cognitive scores. Researchers studied first and third grade students in a Southern city by testing children with the Brief Intellectual Ability portion of the Woodcock-Johnson III cognitive test, while their parents completed questionnaires about parenting practices. Authoritarian parenting in fathers, however, was not found to affect children’s cognitive scores.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parents may raise children who do not perform as well in school and are less likely to go on to college, according to the “Journal of Education and Human Development.” The study, the "Influence of Parenting Styles on Children’s Cognitive Development” found that mothers who were permissive raised children who had lower cognitive scores. Children of permissive fathers also tended to have lower cognitive scores in this study. Socioeconomic factors also played a role in the cognitive scores of children who had permissive parents, with lower socioeconomic status tending to predict lower cognitive scores.

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative fathers raised children with higher cognitive scores, according to “The Influence of Parenting Styles on Children’s Cognitive Development.” Mothers who were authoritative, however, had no effect on cognitive scores, but their socioeconomic status did have an effect. Authoritative parenting can continue to influence academic performance at the college level, according to a study reported in the “Journal of College Student Development.” College students completed questionnaires on their perceptions of their parents’ styles. The results were then compared to measures of academic performance such as grade point average. Students who rated their parents as authoritative tended to have higher GPAs.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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