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Teens with overbearing parents lack self-esteem in adulthood

A new study published by the Society for Research in Child Development has investigated the effects of overbearing parenting. The researchers found that psychologically controlling tactics imposed on teens at age 13 were detrimental to educational attainment and romantic relationships later in life. 

“Parents, educators, and clinicians should be aware of how parents’ attempts to control teens may actually stunt their progress,” said study lead author Emily Loeb, a postdoc researcher at the University of Virginia. “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.”

Previous studies have also shown that psychological control is damaging to children. An overbearing parent attempts to control children through harshly manipulative actions, such as withdrawing affection or making the child feel guilty. 

Children of over-controlling parents tend to have lower grades and diminished self-esteem, which is likely because they are discouraged from becoming assertive and independent at a crucial time in life.

The researchers examined the effects of psychological control on 184 adolescents at age 13, and followed up with them every year through age 32. The teens were from urban and suburban areas in the southeastern United States, and came from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. At the beginning of the study, the experts accounted for factors such as family income, gender, and grade point average.

The teens responded to surveys that contained questions about themselves and their parents. In adulthood, the participants also reported on their relationship status and level of education. 

The researchers collected information from peers and observed the teens interacting with their closest friends and romantic partners over the years.

The analysis revealed that having overbearing and over-controlling parents at age 13 was associated with less supportive romantic relationships by age 27, a lower likelihood of being in a relationship by age 32, and lower educational attainment by age 32.

According to the experts, the outcomes can be largely explained by problems at ages 15 to 16, when the teens lacked maturity and were less well-liked compared to their peers.

“Even though parents routinely attempt to guide their children toward successful adaptation, over-controlling parenting in adolescence has the potential to impede development in a fundamental way that’s not easy to repair,” said study co-author Professor Joseph Allen.

The study is published in the journal Child Development.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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