A new study on how children and young people view parenting provides an excellent perspective on how control, even in the best context, can turn into a negative if parents are perceived to be too controlling.
The study discovered young people feel differently about two types of parental control — behavioral and psychological.
Young people are generally positive about behavioral control — a technique thought to be better for a child’s development.
However, when parents are very controlling, young people no longer make this distinction and view both types of parental control negatively.
The study, conducted in the United States by researchers at Örebro University in Sweden, appears in the November/December 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.
Unlike a lot of prior research on parenting that’s focused on control, this study looked at how adolescents view and react to parental control.
Behavioral control generally pertains to parents helping their children regulate themselves by providing supervision, setting limits, and establishing rules.
Psychological control includes manipulative behavior by parents, often resulting in feelings of guilt, rejection, or not being loved.
But the study, which asked 67 American children (7th and 8th graders, as well as 10th and 11th graders) to respond to hypothetical scenarios involving both kinds of control, found that the youths put a negative spin on both types of control when the parents in the scenarios exercised a lot of control.
Specifically, when parents showed moderate levels of control, they saw psychological control more negatively than behavioral control, but when parents were very controlling, they viewed both types of control negatively.
Specifically, the youths interpreted high levels of control as intrusive and as indicating that they mattered less as individuals.
Intrusiveness is a hallmark of psychological control, according to the researchers, and both high levels of psychological control and feeling that you don’t matter have been linked to poorer adjustment.
“Under some conditions, such as when personal choice is restricted, adolescents view behavioral control as negatively as psychological control,” according to the researchers.
“Such negative interpretations may mean that adolescents would respond as poorly to highly restrictive behavioral control as they do to psychological control.”