I outline some of the most common ways in which parents may attempt to exert excessive control over their children below :
Emotional Enmeshment :
This occurs when a parent is intensely and overwhelmingly emotionally involved with his/her child so that, rather than seeing the child as an individual with his/her own thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, views him/her as an extension of him/herself.
The parent who emotionally enmeshes the child may be over-dependent on him/her :
in relation to seeking advice that the child is not mature enough to give (e.g. a parent asking a ten-year-old for advice on romantic relationships),
for psychological counselling.
Such parents may also inappropriately interfere with the child’s life and fail to respect his/her boundaries. Divorced / single parents may even expect their child to serve as a kind of ‘spouse substitute’ (most frequently in emotional terms).
Emotionally immature parents may expect their child to act as a kind of substitute parent – you can read my article about how parents may ‘parentify’ their child by clicking here.
Perfectionist parents may constantly insist upon laying down myriad petty, unnecessary and, perhaps, seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations (for example, my father used to be obsessed with making sure I held my cutlery in precisely the right way – apparently I would ‘mistakenly’ hold my knife ‘like a pen’ which would cause my father an absurdly disproportionate level of unnecessary angst more appropriate to me holding a live grenade in a way that would allow it imminently to detonate.
Living in such a household can put the child into a constant state of tension, or, even, hypervigilance, leading him/her constantly to anticipate the next shaming and disheartening criticism.
Perfectionist parents may also psychologically damage their children by expecting them to achieve in sports, academia, music etc in ways that are unreasonable and unrealistic. In relation to this, they may only offer their children love and approval when they excel, withholding such love and approval the rest of the time.
These types of parents may, too, strongly disapprove of their children expressing particular emotions such as anger or sadness, perhaps to the extent that they even ridicule their children for doing so.
The parent who micromanages their child may be unnecessarily and inappropriately involved in what a child eats or how a child dresses. Such parents may also interfere in superfluous and counter-productive ways with the child’s school life (e.g. visiting the school to complain to teachers about the child’s grades or about the child not making a particular school sport’s team). Or they may not respect their child’s privacy (e.g. constantly checking their child’s room for no good reason, looking through their diary or unnecessarily texting their child whilst s/he is at school to ‘check-up’ on him/her in a way the child finds oppressive).
Such parenting is also sometimes referred to as ‘helicopter parenting’, a term originally coined by Dr Haim Ginott in the late 1960s.
Coercive Control :
The term ‘coercive control’ was first coined by the Duluth Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) but the concept can also be applicable to the parent-child relationship. The DAIP propose that coercive control can take many forms which include :
intimidation (including threatening body language and facial expressions)
minimizing the level of abuse
denying any abuse has taken place
blaming the victim for the perpetrator’s abuse
coercion and threats
Parents Who Use Their Child For ‘Narcissistic Supply’ :
The concept of narcissistic supply stems from psychoanalytic theory. A parent in need of narcissistic supply may emotionally exploit his/her children by overly depending upon them to express their admiration of him/her (the parent), to emotionally support him/her and to bolster his/her self-esteem.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).