Helicopter parenting creates social and educational problems later in life

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Overly strict parents undermine the autonomy of their children which can lead to less favorable outcomes well into adulthood, a new study has shown.

A team of researchers at the University of Virginia reveals that teenagers whose parents are overbearing and overcontrolling may have difficulties in social relationships and educational attainment by the time the teens reach 32 years old.

The study findings, published in the journal Child Development, highlights the long-term impact on the youth when their parents are overly strict and protective.

"Parents, educators, and clinicians should be aware of how parents' attempts to control teens may stunt their progress. This style of parenting likely creates more than a temporary setback for adolescent development because it interferes with the key task of developing autonomy at a critical period," Emily Loeb, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Virginia and study lead author, said.

Psychological control

The team aimed to determine the long-term effect of parenting that is psychologically controlling on teens, and if the effects will last when they become adults. Previous studies have shown that psychological control is a problematic parenting behavior, which has negative impacts on children.

The researchers said that parents who attempt to control their children through intrusive means might be doing wrong, despite their good intentions. Children whose parents use such strategies may have long-term problems, including low self-esteem and lower grades, since they are discouraged from asserting themselves and gaining independence.

Study findings

To arrive at these findings, the team studied 184 individuals between the ages of 13 and 32, from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.  The study participants were equally distributed by gender. The team asked the participants to answer questionnaires about themselves and their parents.

They gathered information about the participants' experiences of being controlled by their parents during their teen years.

The participants were asked about their lives, how their parents were like, and the status of their relationship, including their educational attainment.

Aside from that, the team watched videos of each parent interacting with friends during childhood and videos of them with their romantic partners at present. The friends of the participants were also asked about if they were well-liked growing up.

Study results revealed that having overcontrolling parents at age 13 was tied to less supportive romantic relationships for those who were in relationships by the time they were 27 years old.

The team also found that the children of overcontrolling parents were less likely to be in a relationship by age 32, and they had lower educational attainment by the same age. The most critical age of when parents begin to be controlling was between 15 and 16, the team said. Further, these teens were less psychologically mature and less liked by their friends.

The team said that even if parents routinely attempt to guide their children toward success, they have the potential to impede development by being over-controlling.

"Even though parents routinely attempt to guide their children toward successful adaptation, overcontrolling parenting in adolescence has the potential to impede development in a fundamental way that's not easy to repair," Joseph Allen, Hugh Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and study co-author said.

Study limitations

However, the authors recognize that the study has many limitations. First, they relied on the self-reports of teens on how their parents control them. This means that the measure of parenting was perceived and not observed. Further, they did not show that the psychological control of parents causes developmental problems.

The authors of the study suggest that the findings provide strong evidence that psychological control predicts long-term problems in teens, but further research is needed.

The study was supported by the Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health.

Parenting is a hard and overwhelming responsibility, but being psychologically controlling could have adverse effects on the children when they become adults. Overprotective parents are sometimes called "helicopter parents," and mothers who are very strict are called "tiger moms." These parents are perceived to be controlling over their children, trying to manage their affairs.

Journal reference:
Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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