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Controlling Parents: Children experience problems in relationships

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A long-term study over 19 years has shown how children develop who are strongly controlled by their parents. The scientists working with Emily Loeb from the University of Virginia continuously accompanied 184 young people from their 13th to 32nd year of life. The research showed that children with controlling parents were less likely to have stable romantic relationships in adulthood. They also had lower educational qualifications and less reliable friendships.

The study appeared in the journal Child Development published by the Society for Research in Child Development. It serves as evidence that control addiction in upbringing has long-lasting negative effects on the child’s life.

There are now a number of studies that deal with psychological control on the part of parents. In this case, parents use feelings of guilt or love towards the children as manipulative means to get their children to comply. Few of these studies have looked at the long-term effects of such an education.

“We were particularly interested in how long these effects persist in adulthood,” says study author Emily Loeb. “It was exciting to see that children who grew up under psychological control had severe problems in romantic relationships well into their early 30s. In addition, they often had a lower level of education. “

People with controlling parents have a harder time asking for support

For the study, researchers recruited seventh and eighth graders from public schools in 1998. The children, who were around 13 years old, were brought to the laboratory with their closest friends. There a child asked his friend for help with a problem that was troubling him. The laboratory researchers observed the conversation and how much the children got involved in this discussion.

“By the age of 13, these teenagers were struggling to ask for and receive support. But it seems that this problem got worse over time, ”says Loeb. “Children whose parents were more in control were less liked by their peers. It was more difficult for them to look at social situations in a more differentiated manner and to consider different perspectives.

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At the ages of 15, 16, 27, and 31, the researchers surveyed participants again. Those of them whose parents exercised more control over them were less likely to be in a committed relationship by the age of 32. They also had poorer educational qualifications than their peers – even taking into account their socio-economic background and average grade at the age of 13.

The experiment in which participants should ask for assistance was repeated when they were 27 years old. This time they were accompanied by their life partners. 88 participants brought a partner they had been with for at least three months. This time, too, the researchers noted abnormalities when the person examined asked for support or received it without being asked. “Those who grew up with controlling parents were worse at receiving or asking for support,” says Loeb.

For children with bossy parents, friendships are often more of a burden

Loeb and her co-authors suspect that the lack of academic success is due to the fact that parents pushed the children to good grades in school. Without the corresponding impulses from their parents, the now grown-up children’s striving for success decreased.

The researchers also found that children with controlling parents often find friendships more of a burden. Often they don’t see a mutually beneficial relationship in this.

“People with difficult relationships with their parents tend to have problematic ideas about relationships in general,” says Loeb. “If the child does not do what the parents ask, they often make them feel guilty or withhold their affection. It is not difficult to imagine that later in life these children expect the same behavior in friendly or romantic relationships. “

For fear of such behavior, children of controlling parents take fewer risks. So they ask for support less often because they are afraid of rejection or of the other person withdrawing.

Young people should be able to make some decisions on their own

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Peter Gray is a professor of psychology at Boston College and was not involved in the study. Nonetheless, he sees the study as “fairly convincing evidence that continuous parental monitoring and control has some negative effects on children”. According to him, the increasing frequency of such controlled upbringing is an expression of generational change.

“There is evidence that parents have been taking more and more control over their children’s lives over the past few decades,” says Gray. “Parents used to send children outside to play and they would return home in the dark. Nowadays children are seldom given the kind of independence that was common in the past ”.

With increased parental supervision, adolescents also need longer to reach “classic stages” of growing up, such as having sex for the first time or trying alcohol, he adds.

The study received a grant from the National Institute of Health for an additional 10 years. Loeb is thinking about examining the blood groups and age characteristics of the participants in a further step.

“Children with controlling parents tend to seek independence and make autonomous decisions later,” she says. “That’s why I see this study as proof of how important it is for young people to be able to make some decisions themselves”.

This article was published by in June 2020. It has now been reviewed and updated.


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