Authority-Based Parenting vs. Power-Based Parenting

by | Authority-Based Series

Is there Really a Difference between Parental Authority and Parental Power?

Just as with discipline and punishment, it is easy to confuse parental authority with parental power. When we hear the term, “authoritative parenting”, it is usually used to describe a parent who is excessively controlling and possibly unduly strict and demanding; one with dictatorial aspirations.  My objection to this common negative connotation is that we parents are indeed an authority in our kids’ lives-at least we’d better be! We must be an authority if they are to eventually develop and evolve into healthy, well-grounded adults.

So in an attempt to recapture the positive and necessary qualities of parenting with authority, I will be using it in positive terms and distinguishing it from parenting with power, which I believe interferes with our efforts to parent successfully. If you are skeptical of such distinctions, I invite you to read on before concluding that any differences are merely a matter of semantics.

We must not rely on power to bring about behavior change. Instead, we must rely on and use, our authority.

Young boys happily eating ice cream.I must confess to a bit of “mischievous glee” that comes over me when, at the beginning of a parenting workshop, I declare that, “in American homes today, there is far too much parenting power used in raising kids”. Most parents in attendance respond with a glare, a shake of their head, or a quiet whisper to the person next to them.  Or, some will quickly raise their hand, eager to express their disagreement with my declaration. Seldom do I see a sign or indication that anyone agrees with the notion that parental power is too often overused in today’s permissive world.

What I more often hear back is a corporate disagreement, and that the opposite is true-that what parents today must use is more power, rather than less. Perhaps the use of more parental power, so the reasoning goes, would more likely bring about the change in attitudes, irresponsibility and rebellion that is common in so many kids today. And perhaps more power, rather than less, would go a long way in raising kids who are more self-controlled, responsible and well-behaved.

I am always quick to explain and point out (in order to prevent a mass exodus) that while we parents must not rely on power to bring about desired behaviors in our kids, we must instead be willing to learn and apply the fine art and use of discipline through “authority-based parenting” and to avoid and resist the use of “power-based parenting”.

When we fine-tune how we parent we are likely to see desired behavior changes in our kids.

In this series of 7 articles, you will read about some of the characteristic differences between the two parenting approaches. While the differences may at times seem minor and semantic in nature, the impact on the lives of our kids when we confuse parental power with parental authority can be significant

So I invite you to check in periodically to read all 7 articles I will be posting here from time to time. And, as always, I invite and welcome any feedback or comments you might have.

To pique your interest, I have listed the article titles below.


Seven Characteristic Differences

  1. Authority-Based Parenting maintains its influence when the authority figure is no longer present; Power-Based Parenting is effective only as long as the power figure is present.
  2. Authority-Based Parenting fosters and encourages independence; Power-Based Parenting fosters and encourages dependence.
  3. Authority-Based Parenting establishes parameters and guidelines that are fluid and flexible; Power-Based Parenting establishes parameters and guidelines that are rigid and inflexible.
  4. Authority-Based Parenting gradually gives up control and teaches self-control; Power-Based Parenting fears losing control.
  5. Authority-Based Parenting comes from a position of strength and establishes leadership with democracy; Power-Based Parenting comes from a position of weakness and establishes autocratic rule.
  6. Authority-Based Parenting earns respect by giving it; Power-Based Parenting demands respect but does not give it.
  7. Authority-Based Parenting encourages and nurtures the spirit but discourages willful defiance; Power-Based Parenting stifles the spirit and encourages willful defiance.


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