In this essay, I differentiate between coercive and confrontive kinds of power assertion to elucidate the significantly different effects on children’s well-being of authoritarian and authoritative styles of parental authority. Although both parenting styles (in contrast to the permissive style) are equally demanding, forceful, and power-assertive, they differ from each other in the characteristic kind of power they assert on their children to obtain compliance with parents’ demands. The kind of power that characterizes authoritarian parents is coercive (arbitrary, peremptory, domineering, and concerned with marking status distinctions), whereas the kind of power that characterizes authoritative parents is confrontive (reasoned, negotiable, outcome-oriented, and concerning with regulating behaviors). I argue that the effects of power assertion are detrimental only when coercive, so that the common presumption that power-assertive disciplinary practices per se are harmful is unjustified.

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