Tiger mums and lawnmower dads — what type of parent are you?

From the relaxed to the pushy, protective to the no-nonsense, psychologists in the UAE outline the pros and lows of each

The jellyfish parent lacks authority or gives in to their children to avoid confrontation. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Adherence to a particular parenting style is a relatively modern part of being a mum or dad — especially when the internet is awash with countless variations and buzzwords.

Are you a free-range parent happy to let your toddler walk to the park by themselves (or indeed do groceries a la Old Enough! on Netflix), or are you a helicopter parent overseeing and scheduling every minute of your child’s day?

Perhaps you’re a gentle parent who never raises their voice and offers options rather than admonishments, or you’re more authoritarian with a firm belief in the effectiveness of the naughty step.

“The modern parent is exposed to a hectic amount of new information, research on parenting skills and factors that impact a child’s development,” says Dr Summer Fakhro, a clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia. “All parenting styles have their pros and cons, and combine with the parent’s own personality, experiences and values. They may ask: Why should I let my child fail in a society that stretches out the importance of success, drive and ambition? How can they succeed without my input? Which are all fair questions."

Here are nine common parenting styles.

Permissive parenting: The jellyfish

In an article for Parenting magazine, psychiatrist and author Dr Shimi Kang discussed the jellyfish parent, named after the soft and free-floating sea creature. “These parents, have few rules and expectations, they 'give in' to avoid confrontation, lack authority and are generally overly permissive,” she wrote.

Adopting such a stance goes against the commonly held notion that setting boundaries for children makes them feel more secure.

“Even when a child is being disciplined, it knows it is cared for by teaching that this is not acceptable behaviour,” says social psychologist Johanna Richmond at CBT, Psychodynamic Therapies in Dubai. “A child needs guidance, needs to know there are consequences to negative behaviours.”

An over-involved or snowplough parent will not only monitor closely, but also interfere in their child's life
Sofia Stigka, psychologist Thrive Wellbeing Centre

On the flip side, laid-back parenting can allow children to experience the natural consequences of their own actions within reason. Sofia Stigka, a psychologist at Thrive Wellbeing Centre, says: “This parenting style boosts confidence, intensifies experiential learning and helps the child develop personal accountability and self-responsibility.”

Practitioners of this style should be aware of not slipping into neglectful territory, though. The disadvantages to jellyfish parenting can include poor academic performance, trouble self-regulating and being overweight or obese, according to a study released by Imperial College London last year involving more than 10,000 children in England.

Anti-adversity parenting: Helicopter, lawnmower, snowplough and bulldozer

This subset of parents is all about removing struggle and adversity from their children’s lives using varying degrees of strong-arm tactics — from the lawnmower, so named because they want to mow clear the path ahead in their children’s lives, to the bulldozer who does everything in their power to remove adversity and doubt.

“Such children can become helpless, devoid of self-esteem and doubt their ability to accomplish even small tasks,” says Richmond of the effects of this style. “It’s called ‘learnt helplessness’. As the child grows, they feel like everything is outside their control and become easily frustrated.”

The ability to successfully “adult” as per Gen Z parlance is dependent on children being given challenges to learn self-reliance as well as the chance to succeed and fail.

“An over-involved or snowplough parent will not only monitor closely, but also interfere in their child's life,” says Stigka. “Opportunities for self-advocacy are removed and children tend to depend on the parents’ involvement to take them out of the difficult position.

“Contrary to the free-range parent, the over-involved parent will not allow children to experience the natural consequences of their actions in an effort to eliminate possible dangers and prevent discomfort.”

Authoritative parenting: Tiger mothers

Possibly the most famous of the parenting styles, the term was coined by Yale law professor Amy Chua in her 2011 book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The phrase evokes images of brutal honesty and a tendency toward parental harshness, not shying away from using shame and disappointment as motivators.

“Over-involved parents typically have good intentions, but very often they want to overcompensate for their own lost opportunities to succeed or other negative experiences,” says Stigka. “This parenting style values safety, consistent attendance at school and in other activities, organisation skills, planning skills, time-management skills and strong attainments.”

The key is to develop an outlook of conscious parenting, ask yourself regularly why you make the decisions to make in relation to parenting
Summer Fakhro, clinical psychologist, The LightHouse Arabia

While tiger parenting has developed a stigma, Fakhro says there are benefits to this style. “The child may feel cared for and held in mind by their parent and have a good sense of their value in the world. They may also be more comfortable in turning to others for help.”

Chua’s daughter, Sophia Rubenfeld previously told The Telegraph: “I am not scared of my mom and never have been. It was always unequivocally clear in my mind that my parents were on my side, no matter what. They did have high expectations of me, but it was because they had the confidence that I could do amazing things.”

Balanced parenting: Elephants and dolphins

Striking a happy balance between permissive and authoritarian is something parents aim for on a daily basis. Being protective without being overwhelming or suffocating are traits of elephant parenting, which puts mental and emotional well-being over academic achievements.

While similarly nurturing, the dolphin prizes academic or sporting prowess just as highly as emotional intelligence and is more likely to use role-model tactics and state their expectations.

“Numerous studies have observed that parenting like a dolphin, authoritative parenting also offering warmth and firmness, having expectations but also respecting independence and creativity, has been associated with optimum developmental outcomes for children and adolescents,” says Stigka. “Warmth provides emotional support, and firmness provides clear guidelines and limits to their children’s behaviour.”

Fakhro adds: “The key to finding the right parenting balance is to develop an outlook of conscious parenting, ask yourself regularly why you make the decisions to make in relation to parenting.

“The more we know ourselves, the more we can be aware of when we react in response to an emotion stirred in us, which typically causes overreaction or very strong feelings, versus what our child needs in that moment.”

Updated: March 30, 2023, 7:09 AM