Parents who exert too much control over their kids could be causing them damage that could last into mid-adulthood. A new longitudinal study has found that teens who say their parents are overcontrolling struggle with educational goals and relationships as adults.
The long-term impact of psychologically controlling parenting
University of Virginia researchers explained via EurekAlert that parents, clinicians, and educators should be aware of how parents’ attempts to psychologically control their teens may stunt their progress. Emily Loeb, a postdoctoral researcher at the said university, said that it is a kind of parenting likely to create a more than temporary setback as they reach their adolescent years because it interferes with the task of developing autonomy during such a critical period of their lives.
Even past research has considered it problematic behavior to psychologically control a child. Parents attempt to control their kids through harshly and intrusive manipulative means, such as making the child feel guilty for upsetting the parent or withdrawing affection and love when the parent is angry with the child.
Kids whose parents use this parenting behavior tend to have problems, like lower self-esteem and lower grades because they are discouraged from gaining independence and asserting themselves. For their study, the team examined the perceived psychological control in early adolescence, a stretch between the ages of 10 and 14. This is a stage that is the start of a growth spurt and followed by the development of the sex organs (puberty) and secondary sexual characteristics. The teen also starts to think and feel in more mature ways during this stage.
The researchers followed 184 youth yearly from ages 13 until they reach 32. The subjects from suburban and urban areas in the Southeastern United States come from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Nearly half of the group was female and half were male, and 42% considered themselves members of minority ethnic or racial groups. The study likewise considered grade point average at age 13, gender, and family income.
Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about their parents, themselves, and in adulthood, their level of education and relationship status. Data from each participant’s peers were also collected about how well-liked they were during their teens at school. The team also observed videos of every youth interacting with their closest friends and later interacting with their romantic partner as they reach adulthood.
It was found that having overcontrolling or overbearing parents at age 13 was linked with less supportive romantic relationships as the subject reached 27 and a lower likelihood of being in a relationship or having lower educational attainment as they reach 32. The authors believe that the outcomes were explained mostly by problems at age 15 to 16, such as the teens were less liked by their friends or less psychologically mature.
Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology Joseph Allen, who co-authored the research, said that although parents are routinely attempting to guide their kids toward a successful adaptation, overcontrolling parenting behavior in adolescence can impede the development of the person in a fundamental way that is difficult to repair.
Oberlin College’s professor of psychology Nancy Darling, who is not a part of the study, opined that psychological control is one of the three basic dimensions of parenting style. The other two are behavioral control and warmth. Focusing on psychological control, it is also referred to as psychological intrusiveness, the extent to which parents try to control their kid’s beliefs and emotional state. However, this kind of control assaults the child itself, Darling warned.
While parenting characterized by both warmth and high behavioral control tends to result in children with high self-esteem, with strong friendships, with independence, and that do well in school, psychological control does not. Parents who psychologically control their kids tend to have kids who have low self-esteem and are lonely, anxious, and depressed. They are also more likely to be involved in delinquency and anti-social behavior.
She mentioned that asking a child to help with household chores is a reasonable thing to do. It helps the child feel responsible for others, develop a sense of altruism and pride, learn skills, develop a sense of competence, and learn an appreciation for things that others do for them. However, asking the kid to appreciate and like doing chores is another thing. On their own, kids may come to appreciate the task over time but asking them to really like it or feel happy doing it is psychologically controlling. Asking the child to feel something that they don’t or making them feel guilty by telling them that they are bad for not doing a certain task can also be considered psychologically controlling.
Experts from the University College of London (UCL) shared in its 2015 study that overly-controlling parents cause their kids lifelong psychological damage. They said that participants who reported their parents had intruded on their privacy as kids or encouraged dependence were more likely to have lower scores in general wellness and happiness surveys that were carried out in their teens, 30s, 40s, and until they reached their 60s.
Parenting styles: statistics
The Pew Research Center published that parenting approaches vary in significant ways between mothers and fathers and across socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial groups and generations. For example, 62% of American parents say they can sometimes be overprotective, especially among mothers. Nearly seven in ten or 68% of mothers consider themselves overprotective compared to 54% of fathers. Only one in five or 19% of moms and 33% of dads admit that they are the type of parents who give too much freedom.
Among fathers, 49% say they criticize too much and 29% praise too much. Among moms, 39% criticize too much and 36% praise too much. Older and millennial parents describe their parenting styles in different ways. For instance, 68% of millennials say they are a parent who sometimes is overprotective compared to 60% of Gen Xers and 54% of Boomers.
Most parents also believe that they bear the responsibility for the inevitable defeats and happy victories of their children as they grow up.
Overall, studies suggest that parental psychological control among children potentially undermines their autonomy and it could lead to less favorable outcomes as they reach adulthood.