There are different styles of child rearing and, unfortunately, the controlling style is one of the most prevalent. Here, instead of gently guiding the child’s authentic self, the parent tries to make and mold the child into whatever they think the child should be.

As the term implies, the core indication of controlling parenting is a controlling approach towards the child. The controlling parenting style is sometimes also called authoritarian or helicopter parenting, and this is because the parent is acting in an authoritarian manner or is hovering over the child and controlling their every move. The methods used to implement it involve violating the child’s boundaries or not meeting the child’s true needs.

Signs of the Controlling Parenting Style

1. Unrealistic expectations and doomed to fail scenarios

The child is expected to meet irrational, unhealthy, or simply unattainable standards, and is punished if and when they don’t. For example, your father tells you to do something but never explains how to do it, and then becomes angry if you can’t do it properly or immediately.

Oftentimes the child is set up for failure and they will experience negative consequences regardless of what they do and how they do it. For instance, your mother commands you to run to the store quickly to get groceries when it’s raining and then is upset when you come home wet.

2. Unreasonable, unilateral rules and regulations

Instead of talking to their children, negotiating, taking time to explain things, setting principles that apply to all members of the family and society, controlling parents set strict rules that apply only to the child, or only to certain people. These rules are unilateral, unreasonable, and unprincipled, and oftentimes don’t even have a proper explanation.

“Go clean your room!” – “But why?” – “Because I said so!”

“Don’t smoke!” – But you smoke, dad.” – “Don’t argue with me and do what I say not what I do!”

Instead of appealing to the child’s self-interest, it’s an appeal to the power disparity between the parent and the child.

3. Punishments and controlling behavior

When the child is unwilling to comply or fails to match whatever is expected from them, they are controlled and punished. Again, often without any explanations except for “I’m your parent!” or “You’re bad!”

There are two types of controlling and punishing behavior.

One: active or overt, which includes physical force, yelling, invading privacy, intimidation, threats, or restriction of movement.

And two: passive or covert, which is manipulation, guilt-tripping, shaming, playing the victim, and so on.

So the child is either simply forced to comply or is manipulated into compliance. And if they fail, they are punished for disobedience and imperfection.

4. Lack of empathy, respect, and caring

In authoritarian environments, instead of being accepted as an equal human being, the child is generally seen as a subordinate. In contrast, the parent and other authority figures are seen as superiors. The child is also not allowed to question this dynamic or challenge the parent’s authority. This hierarchical dynamic manifests itself in lack of empathy, of respect, of warmth, and of caring for the child.

Most parents are usually able to meet the child’s physical, basic needs (food, shelter, clothing), yet they are either emotionally unavailable, severely lacking, overbearing, or selfish. This feedback that the child receives in a form of punishments and controlling treatment is damaging to their sense of self-worth and identity.

5. Role-reversal

Since many controlling parents have strong narcissistic tendencies, they consciously or unconsciously believe that it’s the child’s purpose and responsibility to meet the parent’s needs, not vice versa. They see the child as property and as an object that is here to serve their needs and preferences. As a result, in many scenarios the child is forced to fit the role of a parent, and the parent takes on the role of a child.

This role-reversal manifests where the child is treated as a surrogate parent—to the parent or to other family members. Here, the child is expected to take care of their parent’s emotional, economic, physical, or even sexual needs and wants. If the child is unwilling or unable to do so, again, they are seen as being bad and are punished, forced, or manipulated into compliance.

6. Infantilizing

Since controlling parents don’t see their child as a separate, individual entity, oftentimes they raise the child to be dependent. This treatment negatively affects the child’s sense of self-esteem, competency, and individuality.

Because the parent believes and behaves as though the child is inferior and incapable to live according to their own self-interest, he or she thinks that they know what’s best for the child, even when the child is capable of making their own decisions and take calculated risks.

It fosters dependency and stunts the child’s natural development because the child never develops adequate boundaries, self-responsibility, and a strong sense of identity. On a psychological, usually unconscious level, by not letting the child grow into a strong, competent, self-sufficient human being the parent keeps the child tied to them tighter in order to continue to get their needs met (see #5).

Such a child usually has problems making their own decisions, building competency, or creating respectful and fulfilling relationships. They often suffer from self-underestimation, over-attachement, approval seeking behavior, indecisiveness, dependency on others, and numerous other emotional and behavioral problems.

In the next article, we will talk more about why controlling parenting is not a viable nor effective approach.

Were your parents, teachers, or other authority figures controlling? How was it for you growing up in such an environment? Feel free to let us know in the comments below or write about it in your journal.

Photo credit: Piers Nye

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