Controlling parents cause long-term mental damage to their children

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Parents who exert psychological control over their children could risk damaging them for life, a new study has by University College London has warned.

The effect of the damage caused is comparable to the mental anguish a person feels after the death of a close friend or relative, the researchers warned.

Not allowing a child to make their own decisions, invading their privacy and creating dependence, were all found to harm a child's mental wellbeing.

Researchers followed a group of more than 5,000 people from their births in 1946. Their findings highlight how parenting can have a long-term impact on mental wellbeing.

To arrive at their conclusions scientists monitored the mental wellbeing of participants in the MRC's National Survey of Health and Development between the ages of 13 and 64.

They tracked 5,362 people since their births in 1946. Of those 2,800 remain under active-follow up.

Researchers took into account other variables that may have an impact on a child's wellbeing, including parental separation, childhood social class, maternal mental health and participants' personality traits.

They found that children with caring parents were more securely attached and therefore better able to manage future relationships.

Mothers' and fathers' care were equally important predictors of mental health through to middle age. But paternal care had a greater association with wellbeing in later life.

Lead author Dr Mai Stafford said: "control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing.

"We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early,middle and late adulthood."

Care from both mothers and fathers were found to be of equal importance through to middle age. But, researchers found paternal care had a greater association with wellbeing in later life, from 60 to 64.

Dr Claire Hill, clinical psychologist specialising in parenting and child anxiety at the University of Reading, said: "In the field of childhood anxiety disorders, there is a real lack of studies that include both. In some areas paternal care was more strongly associated with wellbeing than maternal care - the role of fathers should not be ignored when assessing psychological problems in children.

"Crucially the study suggests that parenting interventions should be aimed at both parents, and not just the primary caregiver, who is typically the mother. But while this is an important study, caveats need to be applied to the results."

Dr Stafford said: "We know from other studies that if a child shares a secure emotional attachment with their parents, they are better able to form secure attachments in adult life.

"Parents also give us a stable base from which to explore the world, while warmth and responsiveness has been shown to promote social and emotional development.

"By contrast, psychological control can limit a child's independence and leave them less able to regulate their own behaviour.

"Parents are vitally important to the mental wellbeing of future generations. Policies to reduce economic and other pressures on parents could help them to foster better relationships with their children.

"Promoting a healthy work-life balance is important as parents need time to nurture relationships with their children."

Unlike psychological control, behavioural control broadly refers to not letting a child have their own way, and was found to have no significant effect on metal wellbeing later in life.

The study was published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. 

Every Child Journal
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