Currently, environmental problems are taking place all over the world. The air we breathe is polluted, the water we drink stems from polluted rivers, and the land that feeds us is increasingly damaged in some way. Although the United Nations (2000) [1
] warns us about the ecological crisis as one of the greatest threats to sustainable development, human beings still behave in ways that destroy the planet. For many years, researchers have examined the relationship between human actions and the environment. The socialization process is consistently identified as a crucial factor in the internalization of social values, including values associated with the conservation of nature [2
]. An important goal of socialization is the transmission of values across generations, which is essential in the process of individual development and the functioning of society. Even in adolescence, when parents’ influence is reduced while other influences come from different socialization agents, such as peers or the mass media, the family plays a critical role as a protective or risk factor in adolescent functioning and competence [3
The parenting styles approach is one of the most significant areas in the family socialization literature examining the relationship between parental actions and children and adolescents’ developmental outcomes. Traditionally, parenting styles have been studied focusing on two dimensions, warmth and strictness [6
], defined as theoretically orthogonal (i.e., unrelated) constructs. Parental warmth is expressed in terms of responsiveness and acceptance, giving children and adolescents support and communicating with them. Scholars have used different labels to operationalize measures of parental warmth and acceptance, for instance, assurance [11
], warmth [12
], acceptance [13
], love [14
], responsiveness [15
], or currently, acceptance/involvement [16
]. Parental strictness is expressed in terms of supervision and maturity demands placed on the children. Other labels, similar to strictness, have also been used in the literature, such as control [12
], domination [11
], demandingness [15
], or, currently, strictness/imposition [16
]. The combination of these two main dimensions produces four parenting styles: authoritative (higher levels of warmth and strictness), indulgent (higher levels of warmth, but lower levels of strictness), authoritarian (lower levels of warmth, but higher levels of strictness), and neglectful (lower levels of warmth and strictness).
Many studies have examined the relationships between the four parenting styles and developmental outcomes in children and adolescents. However, there are inconsistent findings about which parental style is associated with the best developmental outcomes. Traditionally, studies show that the authoritative style (higher levels of both warmth and strictness) produces the best outcomes for children and adolescents’ psychosocial adjustment in middle-class European-American families [3
]. Specifically, data suggest that children from authoritative families (higher levels of warmth and strictness) report higher levels of social and psychological capacities, better school achievement, and fewer behavioral problems [6
]. In comparison with other styles, children and adolescents from neglectful households (lower levels of both warmth and strictness) have the worst scores on psychosocial adjustment. In an intermediate position between authoritative parenting (related to the best developmental outcomes) and neglectful parenting (related to the poorest developmental outcomes) are the authoritarian and indulgent styles. Regarding the authoritarian style, adolescents from these families report greater obedience and higher conformity with social norms, as well as less school misconduct, but relatively worse self-reliance and higher psychosocial and somatic distress. The indulgent style, in turn, has been related to some benefits for adolescents, such as a strong sense of self-confidence, but also with some psychosocial costs such as lower academic achievement, weak engagement in school, and more school misconduct. Nonetheless, empirical evidence does not support the idea of a universal protective role of the authoritative parenting style [19
]. Several studies carried out in different ethnicities, environments, and cultural contexts show that other parental styles have a relationship with positive outcomes in children and adolescents. For example, in ethnic minority groups [16
], in families with low socioeconomic status [24
], and in Arab societies [25
], the authoritarian parental style has been associated with better psychosocial adjustment in children and adolescents.
Additionally, a growing body of research, mostly conducted in Europe and Latin American countries, identifies benefits related to the indulgent parenting style (higher levels of warmth, but lower levels of strictness) on different indicators of psychosocial adjustment [26
]. In fact, the indulgent parenting style is related to equal or even better outcomes than authoritative parenting, whereas the styles characterized by lower levels of parental warmth (i.e., authoritarian and neglectful) are associated with poor outcomes. Adolescents from indulgent households showed greater psychosocial maturity [32
] and good performance in school. They developed academic competence based on self-regulated learning, achieving good school grades [21
] and less academic stress and school misconduct [21
]. In addition, the indulgent parenting style also provides ample benefits for personal competence in the realm of self-esteem. Adolescents from indulgent homes reported equal or better self-esteem than their peers from authoritative households, whereas adolescents raised by authoritarian and neglectful parents reported poor self-esteem [21
]. Along the same lines, the indulgent parenting style also provides social competence in the realm of internalization of values. Adolescents from authoritative and indulgent households have higher levels of internalization of values such as self-transcendence (i.e., universalism and benevolence) and conservation (i.e., security, conformity, and tradition), whereas those from authoritarian and neglectful households are associated with the lowest internalization of values [7
]. Components of parental warmth, such as involvement and reasoning with the children, might contribute to the priority given to social values by adolescents [37
]. In addition, on other social values criteria, adolescents from indulgent and authoritative households gave higher priority to human rights principles than those from neglectful homes [38
The present study examines the impact of parental socialization on self-esteem and the internalization of environmental values. Parental socialization is captured by the four-fold typology of parenting styles (i.e., indulgent, authoritative, authoritarian, and neglectful). Importantly, the environmental literature widely identifies the influence of family on the concern for the environment, conservation behaviors, and attitudes toward environmental protection in children through family processes such as the transmission of family environmental norms or the child’s observation and imitation of parental behaviors related to the environment [39
]. For example, adolescents tend to report more energy-saving behaviors when their parents also have behaviors related to saving energy [43
]. Nevertheless, less is known about the family as a context for pro-environmental socialization through parental practices of warmth and strictness, despite the well-documented impact of parental socialization on the broad spectrum of internalization of social values and prosocial behaviors.
Although empirical evidence about pro-environmental socialization is limited, scholars agree that general parenting practices (e.g., warmth, reasoning, granting autonomy, strictness, or monitoring) are related to adolescent pro-environmental behavior. However, research findings show important inconsistencies in explaining how parents engage in environmental socialization by applying environmental-specific parenting practices [41
]. In particular, parental practices characterized by strictness are examined in environmental-specific socialization. For example, parents can insist that the child turn off lights to save electricity by withdrawing privileges due to noncompliance. Empirical evidence from a study [41
] conducted in the United States, South Korea, and Israel did not find a relationship between environmental-specific parenting practices characterized by strictness and children’s environmental behavior (sustainable lifestyle, reducing consumption, and reducing impact). In contrast, findings from a study [45
] with German adolescents and their parents revealed that environmental-specific parenting practices characterized by strictness (parents’ use of sanctions) were effective in achieving children’s recycling behavior, whereas environmental-specific parenting practices characterized by warmth (parents’ use of communication) were effective in achieving children’s reuse behaviors (for a discussion on environmental-specific parenting practices, see Katz-Gerro and colleagues, 2019) [41
]. Similarly, among the few studies examining the influence of general parenting practices on pro-environmental outcomes, most of them have examined parental warmth rather than both parental warmth and strictness. General parenting practices characterized by warmth are positively related to pro-environmental outcomes [39
]. For example, findings from a study [39
] carried out in Denmark revealed that parental autonomy granting is positively related to adolescents’ motivation to engage in pro-environmental behavior. Although the relationship between parenting styles and socialization outcomes (e.g., internalization of social values) has been widely studied in the literature, few studies have examined the impact of parenting styles on environmental outcomes. Most of these seminal studies only used interviews, but not an orthogonal dimensional approach [47
], or they examined empathy toward nature, but not internalization of environmental values [48
Socialization in adolescence is a process characterized by an interaction between the individual and his/her relevant social contexts. Studies traditionally highlight parents as the main socialization agent in childhood, although in adolescence, apart from the family, other significant sources have a critical impact, such as peers and other informal sources like social media, television, or the Internet [3
]. Several studies have shown that adolescents’ behavior depends on who these others are, as well as their degree of similarity in terms of age, attitudes, personality, and so on. Approval is more likely to be based on conformity with peer standards than with social norms [51
]. Adolescence is a developmental time related to greater psychosocial vulnerability [27
]. For example, some decrease in self-esteem might occur during adolescence. Similarly, in the social realm, although in adolescence there appears to be an increasing interest in environmental topics, adolescents report fewer pro-environmental behaviors than adults [39
The present study aims to analyze the influence of parenting styles (i.e., authoritative, indulgent, authoritarian, and neglectful) on adolescent self-esteem and the priority given to environmental values. Based on previous studies, we expect that parenting styles characterized by higher levels of parental warmth (i.e., authoritative and indulgent styles) will be related to higher scores on self-esteem and internalization of environmental values than parenting styles characterized by lower levels of parental warmth (i.e., authoritarian and neglectful styles).
The aim of this study was to further assess the effects of parenting styles (authoritative, indulgent, authoritarian, and neglectful) on Spanish adolescents’ self-esteem and pro-environmental values. Self-esteem was evaluated in five spheres: academic, social, emotional, family, and physical. Additionally, a global measure of self-esteem was considered. Pro-environmental values were evaluated as the importance of protecting nature as a guiding principle in adolescents’ lives. Importantly, results showed a common pattern between parenting styles and their contribution to an adequate sense of self (i.e., self-esteem), as well as a sense of being part of the natural environment (i.e., environmental values). Overall, findings from the present study showed that parenting styles characterized by high levels of affection and dialogue, the indulgent and authoritative styles, were related to the best self-esteem outcomes. Regarding the internalization of environmental values, the results showed that higher levels of this internalization were associated with authoritative and indulgent parenting styles.
Specifically, the relationship between parenting styles and self-esteem and pro-environmental values showed a consistent pattern. Adolescents from families characterized by warmth (i.e., indulgent and authoritative) reported greater self-esteem in academic, social, and emotional spheres than those from non-warmth families, although on academic self-esteem, the authoritative group did not reach a statistically significant level, whereas on physical self-esteem, the indulgent group did not reach a statistically significant level. A similar tendency was found for global self-esteem. Adolescents who characterized their parents as indulgent or authoritative reported more global self-esteem than their counterparts from authoritarian and neglectful families. On environmental values, again, only adolescents from families characterized by warmth reported giving a high priority to environmental values, whereas the poorest internalization of environmental values corresponded to their peers from authoritarian and neglectful families. The findings from this study agree with some previous studies, mainly carried out in European and Latin-American countries, about the positive impact of parental warmth and involvement on adolescent self-esteem [21
] and priority given to social values [7
]. Although these studies examined the contribution of parenting styles to self-esteem and internalization of social values, the present findings offer new and crucial empirical evidence in the less explored domain of the environmental field, extending the evidence about the impact of parenting styles from social values (self-transcendence and conservation values) to environmental values, an essential but less studied domain in the area of parental socialization.
Parents have a crucial impact on children and adolescents’ development of self-esteem and internalization of social values. As Grusec and Goodnow (1994) highlight [5
], for the internalization of values, it is necessary to take into consideration aspects of children and adolescents’ psychological adjustment, such as self-esteem. Lower levels of self-esteem could obstruct values internalization. Within social values, self-transcendence and conservation values are widely considered socially focused values [81
] and theoretical constructs centered on consideration for others and agreement with social norms are positively related to interpersonal empathy [81
]. Nevertheless, the internalization of environmental values as an adolescent outcome variable has not been purposely examined, even though different scholars have stressed the importance of parental socialization in the internalization of social values, including environmental values—commonly operationalized as biospheric values. In general, previous parenting research has been limited to isolated pro-environmental outcomes [39
], without considering individual aspects of the child (e.g., self-esteem) in the outcome criteria.
It is important to know, therefore, what parents can do to achieve well-adjusted children oriented toward nature conservation, although previous environmental research shows discrepancies in explaining how parents respond to environmental socialization by applying environmental-specific parenting practices. For example, parents can insist that their child turn off lights to save electricity, withdrawing privileges due to noncompliance—a parenting practice characterized by strictness. Some inconsistent findings revealed a differential effectiveness of parenting strategies depending on the pro-environmental outcomes [45
]. Environmental-specific parenting practices characterized by strictness (parents’ use of sanctions) are effective in achieving children’s recycling behavior, but environmental-specific parenting practices characterized by warmth (parents’ use of communication) are effective in achieving children’s reuse behaviors. However, other pro-environmental scholars [41
] did not find any relationship between specific strict parenting practices and children’s environmental behavior (for a discussion, see Katz-Gerro and colleagues, 2019) [41
]. In contrast, findings from the present study revealed that the impact of the parenting style shows the same pattern for adolescents’ self-esteem and their internalization of environmental values; that is, only adolescents from families characterized by warmth have greater self-esteem and give a higher priority to environmental values.
Overall, the present study suggests that both authoritative and indulgent parenting styles have a positive effect on psychosocial outcomes (self-esteem and environmental values internalization) in Spanish adolescents. Furthermore, in cultural contexts such as European and Latin-American countries, different studies have shown that the indulgent parenting style has been related to optimal outcomes in children and adolescents’ psychosocial adjustment [21
]. Indulgent parenting has a positive impact on children’s personal and social adjustment [89
], offering protection against alcohol use and abuse, promoting motivations for drinking and non-drinking [90
], or preventing personal maladjustment [91
]. However, these empirical findings also contrast with some studies conducted with families from other cultural contexts; it is important to note that the parenting literature has shown cultural variations in the optimal style [6
]. In particular, empirical research from European-American contexts revealed that the best parenting is based on parental strictness accompanied by parental warmth [6
], and even parental strictness without parental warmth emerges as a good parenting strategy in ethnic minorities from the United States or families from Arabic and non-western countries [23
Although it is not central to this study, our results also confirm some sex- and age-related differences found in other previous studies with adolescents. Regarding age-related differences, early adolescents tend to report greater family self-esteem than late adolescents, whereas late adolescents give more priority to environmental values than early adolescents. Regarding sex-related differences, males report higher emotional and physical self-esteem than females. These results agree with some important studies in the area of adolescence [27
The present study and its findings should be interpreted taking some limitations into account. The study has a cross-sectional design, and so we cannot draw conclusions about the directionality and causal relationships between the variables. It should be noted that, in the absence of longitudinal data, the findings from this study should be considered preliminary [21
]. Additionally, parenting was captured through parental measures provided by adolescent children rather than their parents, although similar results have been obtained with measures provided by other sources, such as external informants or reports from parents [17
]. Despite these drawbacks, the present study offers new and interesting evidence about how parents can contribute to the environmental socialization of their adolescent children. Moreover, the use of the theoretical framework based on the dimensional model with four parenting styles also encourages future studies to further examine parenting styles and other environmental outcomes.