Parents—When Is Control Too Much Control?

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Parents—When Is Control Too Much Control?

"Children learn more from what you are than what you teach."—W.E.B DuBois.

Which of the following statements best describe you:

~When I ask my children to do something, he/she asks why? I say something like "because I said so" or "because I want you to do it."

~I punish my children by withholding expressions of affection.

~I explode in anger towards my children.

~I yell or shout when my children misbehave


~I talk to my children about our plans and listen to what he/she has to say.

~I try to help and comfort my children when he/she is upset.

~My children feel he/she can come to me when they need someone to confide in.

As human beings, we have a deep desire for certainty and control due to wanting to control the outcome of a situation or feeling like we have freedom.

As parents, we want to control all aspects of our children’s life. Still, we feel frustrated or upset when we repeatedly tell them to clean their room, wash the dishes, or do their homework.

Ask yourself this question, how does it feel when you are under someone else's control? Now, think about how your children may feel having every aspect of their lives dictated to them. They have to get permission to use the restroom in school, hang out at the mall with their friends, be told they have to play a sport,  join a club, or go to bed at a specific time. Most people don't like being controlled, and they will rebel because of it. According to renowned motivational psychologist, David McClelland "power stress" is the tendency to become angry, frustrated, or disappointed when others don't behave the way we want them to. This is definitely the reaction from parents when situations arise beyond their control. But, guess what? The only person that we can truly control is ourselves, not even our children.

A long-term study conducted by the University of VA found that overbearing and over-controlling measures by parents when children were 13 years old were associated with difficulties in social relationships and educational attainment by the time the teen reached age 32. According to Emily Loeb, a researcher at the University of VA, this study's results are vital because this type of parenting style creates more than a temporary setback for teen development. It interferes with the crucial task of developing autonomy at a critical developmental stage.

As a parent, you want the best for your children, which is terrific. Parents want to shield their children from events and situations by thinking for them and denying them from going places. This is a way of parents protecting their children via control. Parents' relationships with their children will suffer if they are too overbearing. Being too controlling can breed children who suffer from anxiety, fear of failing, lack of problem-solving skills or creativity, rebellion, and other mental health issues.

I grew up in a controlling family. How I should think, feel, and do was dictated to me. I recall a particular incident during a stressful time for my family when my grandmother forbade me from going outside. Maybe it was due to my family's stress at that time. However, to me, it was random and her exerting her control as she often did. My grandmother believed that kids should not question their elders. This was a generational belief. I witnessed my grandmother not question or talk back to her aunts. My mother and aunt did not talk back to my grandmother, and my generation did not talk back to any of them. We did whatever they told us to do, even if we disagreed. As a young adult, my family preceded to tell me what I should be and should not be doing. The notion was always that they were the adults and knew better because of it.  The younger generation didn't have the ability to think, feel, or be allowed to have a voice. The inability of not having a voice translated into not being able to speak up for me, which led to people saying things I didn't like or inappropriate things. It also resulted in having struggles with indecisiveness, self-doubt, and being a people pleaser.

I know how these situations made me feel. My family, just like so many other families, wasn't intending to or wasn't aware of the negative impact that they were having. The control in my family was to keep us in line so we didn't fall victim to teenage pregnancy. I can't tell you the countless times I've heard "you better not bring any babies home" or "you better not get pregnant." A small part of me feels that they believed they were trying to protect us from mistakes or danger. Parents fear that children will repeat their errors but are unaware they are damaging rather than protecting their children.

Emily Loeb, a research associate at the University of Virginia, reported that "kids with controlling parents tend to struggle to find independence and make autonomous decisions later in life. She said that it's essential that adolescents be allowed to make some of their own choices." The consequences of having controlling parents in adulthood might persist or worsen when adult children encounter new obstacles— bad relationships, low self-esteem, or low-stress tolerance, to name a few.

There are also long-term implications of having controlling parents, such as:

~Taking part in high-risk activities

~Substance use has increased

~Relationships that are not healthy

~Low self-esteem and self-efficacy, as well as a low threshold for stress

~Poorly defined borders

~Struggles with mental health

The consequences of having controlling parents in childhood impact mental health, preventing children from making decisions, solving issues, and learning how to cope with emotions and change.

Having controlling parents leads to:



~Symptoms of anxiety

~Emotional insecurities

~Aggressive actions

~Negative self-perception

~Low self-confidence

~Emotional dysregulation

~The ability to perceive emotions is limited

Parents sometimes command, demand, and even humiliate to get what they want. We control how our children feel (i.e., you're not tired as much as you sleep), do (i.e., you're not going to the mall with your friends), and think (i.e., I told you that X,Y,Z was a bad idea). Parents don't mean to be controlling, but they don't know better.

"Your kids watch you for a living. It's their job; it's what they do. That's why it's important to try your best to be a good role model."—James Lehman.

As parents, we tend to think that we are helping our children by doing everything for them—ordering their food, cooking, cleaning their rooms, washing their clothes, etc. If you find yourself saying let me do that—rethink that decision. Allow your children to make decisions or do some things on their own; otherwise, you will have an adult child that can barely control their life.

As parents, we are continuously operating from the perspective that we are trying to keep our children from making the same mistakes we've made or from other mistakes. Disengage from verbally controlling your children by saying, "you should have listened to me," "you need to do it my way." or "I told you so." Controlling kids through fear that they should get specific grades, dress the way parents would like, picking the right friends, or cleaning their rooms stresses children out each time he/she is reminded of that very thing. As parents, we would like to think that our children have an easy life; however, they encounter stressful situations and go through a flood of emotions just like we do. They are people too.

So, remember those statements that best describe you at the top? If the first statement best describes you, your parenting style is authoritarian. If the second set of statements best describes you, your parenting style is authoritative. These are just two of the four parenting styles—permissive and neglectful/uninvolved are the other two.

Authoritarian parents expect their orders to be obeyed without question and rely on punishment or threats of punishment to control their kids. This parenting style also emphasizes blind obedience, stern discipline, and controlling children through punishment which may include withdrawal of parental affection.

Authoritative parents encourage kids to be responsible, think for themselves, and consider the reasons for rules. This parenting style is a more balanced approach. Parents expect kids to meet specific behavioral standards but encourage their children to think for themselves and develop a sense of autonomy.

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How often do you praise my children?
  • Are you just throwing directives around or are you talking to your children?
  • How often do you criticize and judge your children (be honest)?
  • Take time to rethink your rules—are they rigid?
  • Do you use fear as a way to get your children to do what you want them to do?
  • When was the last time you showed your children some affection?
  • What are you fearful of as it relates to your children?

As a parent, we have to have some level of control, but when is control too much control? Use the questions above to self-reflect and determine where you might need to rethink some of your past actions and how you can improve moving forward.