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Controlling Parents: Their Effects On Children

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Controlling parents inappropriately impose their own will on their child which, when excessive, can deprive him/her of developing his/her own sense of identity and prevent him/her from behaving in an authentic manner.


They may also demand an unhealthy display of love, adoration, and devotion from their offspring (this may be driven by an unconscious, profound need to compensate themselves for the lack of love they were shown by their parents during their own childhoods).

This can result in the parent ‘parentifying’ their child and feeding off his/her innate affections in an exploitative manner, rather as the leech sucks the blood from its host; the parent-child roles are reversed so that the child is manipulated into becoming his/her parent’s emotional caretaker.

This can lead the child to feel angry, resentful, and confused. In extreme circumstances, the controlling parents may see the child’s will as something that needs to be broken. In order to try to achieve this, the parents may use threats to impose their will and treat the child’s own wishes and desires with contempt and derision.

This places the child in an uncomfortable position as s/he has to choose between:

– placating the parent by surrendering his/her will and individuality

– following his/her own desires at the risk of constantly incurring his/her parent’s anger and disapproval

Many children, in an attempt to resolve this dilemma, may resort to being disingenuous or just plain lying. For example, they may feel compelled to be dishonest about :

– their attitudes

– their activities

– with whom they are associating

In this way, they are forced to hide their true and authentic self from their parent.


Because the child knows his/her parent disapproves of his/her true, inner, authentic self, this can lead the child to feel guilty about who s/he really is and riddled with self-doubt about his/her own ability to make appropriate decisions about the paths s/he wishes to take in life. An example of this would be of a teenager who feels the need to hide his/her sexuality due to his/her parents’ homophobic attitudes.


If the young person decides that s/he has no choice but to comply with his/her parent’s endeavors to control his/her attitudes, behaviors, and, even, to some extent, thoughts, s/he may develop A FALSE SELF. 

Essentially, this false self has been shaped by the over-controlling parent. In this way, the boundary between the parent’s ‘self’ and the young person’s ‘self’ can become blurred, nebulous, and indistinct and can lead to their (the child’s and parent’s) identities becoming ENMESHED.

Other examples of areas of a young person’s life the parent may try to control include what academic subjects the child chooses to study, what career s/he decides to follow, what religion (if any) s/he chooses to follow, or what sports s/he chooses to participate in.

For example, in the film Billy Elliot, the domineering father wants his son to pursue boxing, whilst the boy, Billy, wishes to pursue ballet, thus setting up a major conflict between the two.

Over-controlling parents may also:


  • Show no respect for the child’s individuality
  • Criticize the child for personal choices that do not harm them or anyone else
  • Disrespect the child’s right to privacy
  • Expect the child to reach unattainable standards
  • Take the attitude that children should be ‘seen but not heard
  • Insist upon total obedience
  • Inducing guilt in the child by saying things like, ‘after all I’ve done for you’
  • Insist upon absolute conformity
  • Use punishments that are disproportionately harsh
  • Impose themselves into inappropriate areas of the child’s life
  • Forbid the child from ever questioning their authority
  • Use withdrawal of love as a tool to manipulate the child and bend him/her to their will and only show love to the child conditionally
  • Shame their child to coerce him/her to comply


The young person who has been over-controlled by a parent may find, as an adult, that s/he:

– has difficulty making his/her own decisions

– finds it difficult to express his/her own opinions about subjects

– feel constantly judged by others

– is extremely sensitive about the opinion of others

– often finds it easier to lie about him/herself rather than be honest

– possesses aspects of him/herself s/he has never developed/kept hidden from others/suppressed/repressed

– find it hard to think creatively/unconventionally

If the above apply to you in your adult life, it may be that you are still being affected by the behavior of your controlling parents from when you were a child/teenager. Becoming aware of this is often the first step to positive change.


A study (Stafford et al.) conducted at University College, London suggests that individuals who have been brought up by psychologically controlling parents during their childhoods are at significantly greater risk of suffering from mental health problems in later life than those brought up by less psychologically controlling parents.


  • invading the child’s privacy

  • encouraging the child to be excessively dependent

  • not allowing the child to make his / her own decisions


The study tracked 5,632 individuals from their birth in 1946, all were from the U.K. Information was gathered via questionnaires about their relationships with their parents and, also, about their mental health during the following periods of their life :

  • adolescence
  • their 30s
  • their 40s
  • and when they were between the ages of 60 and 64.

What Specific Problems Can Those Brought Up By Psychologically Controlling Parents Develop?

According to the study, those brought up by psychologically controlling parents can develop various problems including :

In combination, the above factors had a powerful and enduring adverse effect upon the individuals’ mental well-being throughout their lives.

What Types Of Parental Behavior Help To Ensure Their Off-Springs’ Mental Well-Being?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study found that the most important parental behaviors that help to ensure their offspring’s mental well-being were their care (e.g. listening to, and displaying an understanding of, the child’s problems), warmth, friendliness, and responsiveness.

Comparing The Effects Of The Mothers’ Treatment Of Their Children And The Fathers’ Treatment Of Their Children :

CHILDHOOD TO MIDDLE-AGE: the mothers’ and the fathers’ care were found in the study to be of equal importance during these stages of the individuals’ lives.

DURING THE INDIVIDUALS’ LATER LIVES: the fathers’ level of care had a greater positive impact on their mental well-being in comparison to the mothers’ level of care.


The researchers concluded that given the vital role parents (both mothers and fathers) play in the mental health of their children, government policies need to reflect this by helping parents reduce their stress via economic interventions and the encouragement of a healthy work-life balance, thus providing them with more time and energy to develop positive relationships with their children, which, in turn, should help to produce mentally healthier adults.

Perceived Parental Emotional Control And Its Correlation With The Child’s Level Of Externalizing And Internalizing Disorders:

Another study (León-Del-Barco, 2019)was conducted to look at how parental psychological control correlated with their children’s levels of behavioral and emotional disorders. The study involved over 762 young people with an average age of 12 years and three months old and 46.2 percent of whom were male. It was found that the children who perceived their parents as highly psychologically controlling were, on average 600 percent at increased risk of developing internalizing disorders and, on average, 480 percent more likely to suffer from externalizing disorders (male children, in particular, compared to females, were at particularly acute extra risk of suffering from externalizing disorders if they perceived their parents to be highly controlling).


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How to Deal With a Controlling Mother – WebMD



León-Del-Barco B, Mendo-Lázaro S, Polo-Del-Río MI, López-Ramos VM. Parental Psychological Control and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders among Spanish Adolescents. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(3):507. Published 2019 Feb 12. doi:10.3390/ijerph16030507

Stafford, M., et al., Child relationships and offspring’s positive mental wellbeing from adolescence to early older age. The Journal of Positive Psychology. Volume 11, 2016 – Issue 3 Pages 326-337 | Received 16 Dec 2014, Accepted 05 Jul 2015, Published online: 15 Sep 2015


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).





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