Control Freak Parents Damage Their Children For Life, Says Study

The mental damage caused by overbearing parents can be as bad as the distress people feel after the death of a loved one, according to the experts.

sick kid

Helicopter parents aren't just annoying. They're hurting their children for life.

That's the conclusion of a new study from the researchers at University College London, United Kingdom, who revealed key predictors of psychological wellbeing in adulthood based on the paternal care and general childhood environment.

Published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, the study suggests children who are psychologically controlled by their parents are more likely to have poor mental health as adults, likening it to the trauma caused by death of a close friend or relative.

Along with exerting too much pressure and creating a certain level of dependence, not allowing children to make their own decisions and lack of privacy can also harm a child's future mental health, as these restrictions prevent children from learning from their own mistakes and developing a strong identity.

“Parents also give us stable base from which to explore the world while warmth and responsiveness has been shown to promote social and emotional development,” said Dr. Mai Stafford, the lead author from the UCL's Medical Research Council’s Lifelong Health and Ageing unit. “By contrast, psychological control can limit a child’s independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behavior.”

The researchers surveyed 5,362 people ages 13-64. Of those participants, 2,800 were under active-follow up since the early 1940s.

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Adult participants were asked to complete questionnaires to describe how they remembered their parents’ behaviors before they were 16 years old. From the survey, researchers measured three different concepts of care, psychological control and behavioral control.

They measured care by agreement with phrases such “appeared to understand my problems and worries,” psychological control with “tried to control everything I did” and behavioral control was determined with “gave me as much freedom as I wanted.”

The results showed that people with controlling parents scored low in the surveys of happiness and wellbeing, while the participants with warmer and less controlling parents turned out to be way more content and healthy in adulthood.

Furthermore, people with caring parents were also more securely attached – which means they were better able to manage relationships.

“Parents are vitally important to the mental wellbeing of future generations,” Stafford explained. “Policies to reduce economic and other pressures on parents could help them to foster better relationships with their children.”

Researchers also focused on factors such as parental separation, childhood social class, maternal mental health and participants' personality traits.

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“Psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing,” Stafford added. “We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle and late adulthood.”

While care from both mothers and fathers were found to be of equal importance through to middle age, the researchers found that paternal care had a greater association with wellbeing from 60 to 64.

“In some areas paternal care was more strongly associated with wellbeing than maternal care – the role of fathers should not be ignored when assessing psychological problems in children,” said Dr. Claire Hill, a clinical psychologist at the University of Reading. “Crucially the study suggests that parenting interventions should be aimed at both parents, and not just the primary caregiver, who is typically the mother. But while this is an important study, caveats need to be applied to the results.”

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