Perceived Parenting Styles on College Students' Optimism

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between perceived parenting styles and levels of optimism in undergraduate college students. Sixty-three participants were administered surveys measuring dispositional optimism and perceived parental Authoritative and Authoritarian styles. Multiple regression analysis revealed that both perceived maternal and paternal Authoritative styles significantly predicted levels of optimism, but Authoritarian style did not. The discussion focuses on possible mechanisms by which paternal Authoritative style, in particular, may foster late adolescent dispositional optimism.


Parenting style is but one variable that has been researched extensively with regard to human development. More specifically, Baumrind's conceptualization of parenting style has laid the foundation for examining type of parenting conducive to the successful socialization of children in the United States (Baumrind, 1967, 1991). In this conceptualization, parents' values and the beliefs they hold about their roles as parents define naturally occurring patterns of affect, practices, and values. Using this heuristic device, Baumrind (1967) proposed three types of parenting styles.

The Authoritarian parenting style is a highly restrictive parenting style in which adults tend to impose many rules, expect strict obedience, and often rely on physical punishment to gain compliance. These parents tend to be demanding but not responsive (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). The Permissive parenting style is a lax parenting style in which adults make few demands, encourage their children to express their feelings, and rarely use force to gain control over their behavior (Baumrind, 1989). Parents characterized by this style tend not to require mature behavior from their children, but encourage independence instead. According to Baumrind (1991), the Authoritative parenting style consists of a constellation of parent attributes that include high standards, emotional support, encouragement of bi-directional communication, and consistent enforcement of whatever rules they establish. In other words, they tend to be demanding but not restrictive (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).

In general, children and adolescents who are raised by Authoritative parents tend to have better psychosocial skills and display better emotional well being than do the offspring of parents who are not Authoritative (Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Parker & Gladstone, 1996; Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, Mounts, & Dornbusch, 1994). For example, Strage and Brandt (1999) found that college students living in an Authoritative home reported more confidence, persistence, and academic success compared with their counterparts.

Optimism has been identified as a valuable psychological resource that is associated with enhanced mental health (Seligman, 1998). According to Scheier and Carver (1985), dispositional optimism refers to the degree to which an individual holds positive expectancies for their future. More specifically, it refers to the extent to which individuals expect a good outcome to occur rather than a bad outcome. Dispositional optimism conceptualized from an expectancy perspective lends support to the common sense notion that optimists tend to embrace the positive aspects of life, while pessimists tend to embrace the negative aspects of life.

Optimism has been linked to desirable outcomes such as good morale, achievement orientation and improved health (Chemers, Watson, & May, 2000; Peterson, 2000; Taylor, Kemeny, Bower, Grnenewald, & Reed, 2000). More specifically, greater optimism has been found to be associated with less mood disturbance in response to life events. For example, Segerstrom, Taylor, Kemeny, and Fahey (1998) reported optimistic first year law students tended to display better mood and a more robust immune system than their pessimistic counterparts. In our laboratory, we found that greater optimism was associated with less reported perceived stress in African-American college students (Baldwin, Chambliss, & Towler, 2003). …