Slow? Koala? Crunchy? Your guide to the wild world of parenting styles

Test your knowledge of child-rearing trends with these 5 dilemmas

(Illustrations by Tony Johnson for The Washington Post)

Pity the poor parent trying to keep up with all the buzzwords for raising children today. There’s the helicopter, constantly hovering over their kid. The koala who keeps their child close. The lighthouse, guiding the way. Or the tiger — strict, demanding and focused on achievement.

Where are these labels coming from? And why do they have such a hold on parenting culture?

Psychologists have long believed that the way a child is parented affects that child’s well-being. In the 1960s, researchers developed a typology of four styles of parenting, based on the levels of support and control that parents exhibited:

Research since then has backed the authoritative style, which combines high expectations with a willingness to meet a child’s needs. Kids raised by authoritative adults are less likely to become involved in crime or to become victims of crime. They are more likely to turn to parents than to peers on moral issues. They are more likely to achieve academically. You’d think that would be the last word.

Nowadays, however, the four scientific parenting styles are often eclipsed by the more colloquial terms — a seemingly endless parade of new monikers coined by parents and experts. Why do we need them all?

Nancy Darling, a professor of psychology at Oberlin College who has researched parenting styles, said that in the past, a mother (and it was mostly mothers) “was seen to have expertise. And she was embedded in the community of other people who she could draw on for help.”

Times changed. Families spread out, communities became less cohesive and the parenting stakes seemed to get higher. “People are really insecure because we keep being told we don’t know what we’re doing,” Darling said. “And if we make one little mistake, our kids can fall apart and be a disaster.”

Parenting styles, backed by an expert or other parents who think alike, offer isolated parents a neat package of advice that addresses core concerns around safety, achievement or emotional stability.

These labels can create a sense of community — and controversy. “Crunchy” and “silky” moms duel each other on TikTok. Koalas and tigers compete with dolphins and jellyfish. Some styles are scornful tags given by others (helicopter), designations worn with pride (gentle), and some are somewhat tongue-in-cheek (looking at you, scrunchy). A new TV series, “The Parent Test,” has even turned raising kids into a competition, pitting parents with contrasting styles against each other.

Similar styles can go by different names, some are difficult to tell apart, and few have been extensively researched. Clearly, however, they’ve become part of the parenting zeitgeist.

In that spirit, can you guess which parenting style best aligns with each of the answers below? The options we’ve included are, in alphabetical order: attachment, crunchy, free-range, gentle, helicopter, lighthouse, scrunchy, silky, slow, tiger.

Question 1 of 5

You’re going to bring home a newborn soon. Do you plan to co-sleep?

Question 2 of 5

All the neighborhood kids are starting travel soccer. What about yours?

Question 3 of 5

You are doing some chores around the house. Are you wearing your 6-month-old?

Question 4 of 5

Your child grabs a candy bar in the checkout aisle and refuses to give it up. What’s your reaction?

Question 5 of 5

Your child gets a subpar grade on a math test.

In a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans raising kids were asked how much they think their children’s successes and failures reflect the job they are doing as a parent. Most parents, or 57 percent, said “a great deal” or “a fair amount.” With that kind of pressure, parenting styles — and the debates that come with them — may get even more creative and colorful. Or maybe not. Sad beige parenting, anyone?


A previous version of this article misstated the nationality of Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler. The article has been corrected.