In an advice column: Authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles

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Carolyn Hax (2020), syndicated advice columnist, recently received a message from a parent who was tired of being the “bad cop” to their husband’s “good cop” in parenting their son.* The parent notes that while growing up, her** father was “pretty strict,” while her husband’s father “was not very involved when he was a teen.” When it comes to discipline, the mother is the enforcer. She reports that one of their teenage sons is “very headstrong.” The father, rather than supporting his spouse, tries to negotiate peace. As an example of her being the disciplinarian, mom writes, “[O]ur son does not clean up his room after promising to do so. I take the keys to his car for the day. Son spends way more time arguing about the unfairness than it would take to actually clean his room.” Father and son both find the punishment greatly outweighs the crime.

In her advice, Carolyn Hax asks the letter writer, “Why are you treating your/your father’s strictness as the only legitimate approach?” She goes on to add that there could be workable boundaries. The son can do whatever he’d like with his room (within reason***), but common spaces need to be respected, e.g., dishes need to be done. “You can allow him a voice in these expectations and consequences. Not the last word, but a place at the table.”

After covering parenting styles, provide your students with access to the article, then pose these discussion questions.

  1. Based on what you read in the article, is the letter writer more of an authoritarian parent or an authoritative parent. What evidence do you have to support your choice?

  2. What type of parenting style is the advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, suggesting the letter writer try? What evidence do you have to support your choice?

  3. In reflecting on your own experiences growing up—both with your own parents/guardians and those of your friends and classmates—did you or anyone you know have parents/guardians who were more authoritarian? Give an example from you or your friends’ experiences that illustrates an authoritarian approach to parenting. How did the children respond to this parenting style?

  4. Did you or anyone you know have parents/guardians who were more authoritative? Give an example from you or your friends’ experiences that illustrates an authoritative approach to parenting. How did the children respond to this parenting style?



*You will need a Washington Post subscription to read the article at its original source. As of this writing, you can access the column courtesy of the Dallas Morning News via Otherwise, work with your reference librarians to get a permalink to the column in your library’s database that you can share with your students. Just give your librarians the reference below.   

**In Hax’s column, we are not told the gender of the person who wrote in asking for advice. In writing this blog post, I wrote myself into all kinds of knots trying to keep the gender ambiguous. Out of a need for clarity (and pure selfishness in getting to that clarity), I’m going to play the odds and assume the asker-for-this-advice is a woman.

***Newspapers take syndicated columns like this one (and all articles that come off the news wires, actually) and edit them down to fit the space available on the printed page. In the Seattle Times, for example, the sentence reads, “You can agree your son’s room is his jurisdiction (barring extremes, like vermin or contraband), and hold your lines on common spaces.” The Dallas Morning News struck the parenthetical in their publication. Conversely, the Dallas Morning News included the paragraph that begins “The flagrant notworking of the old method is reason enough to try a new one.” The Seattle Times deleted it. The only place to see the complete original is in the Washington Post, Carolyn Hax’s host newspaper—either through the Washington Post website or through your library’s database.


Hax, C. (2020, November 8). Mom resents “bad cop” role in discipling son. The Washington Post.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.