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Controlling Parents, Unhappy Children

Updated on March 30, 2018

The topic of helicopter parenting is a popular current issue. A number of articles and studies are dedicated to this subject. But it doesn't take a professional to see that micromanaged children eventually become bewildered and unhappy with life.

If you are a micromanaged child or is close to such a person, you'll understand what I say here. Overly controlled children basically grow up to be miserable adults. Why? Constant scrutiny, interfering and criticizing robs a child of his/her confidence.

Furthermore when a parent always makes decisions for the child, s/he fails to develop the ability to make one's own decisions. Such children lose the sense of what is wrong and what is right for them. Instead of being responsible individuals, they end up looking for someone else to make all decisions for them.

Children need to exercise their own judgment, make mistakes, learn and develop a healthy sense of competence and self-esteem. They need to have a sense of control over their own lives.

So I write this hub to encourage parents to be aware of how they are controlling their children.

If you know a controlled child, please share this with him/her.

Risk for suicide

Suicide among university and college students is still a taboo subject. It is a serious concern especially at highly competitive schools. It is speculated that the link between self-esteem and academic achievement is a strong factor.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), suicide is the second highest cause of death for youth aged 10-24, second only to motor vehicle accidents.

This article states that "More than half of American college students have considered suicide at some points in their lives, a new survey reveals." (I'm not surprised, suicide did cross my mind when I was a young adult.)

The National Alliance on Mental Health claims that more than 5 percent of students said they had actually attempted suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death for college students, compared to its ranking of ninth among the U.S. population at large.

Of note is the high suicide risk among male Asian (particularly Chinese) students. Cornell University formed a special mental health-oriented Asian and Asian American Campus Climate Task Force to address the causes behind the high number of suicides -- these students are among the least likely to seek out mental health help as the stigma among this group for seeing mental health professionals is extremely high.

Sadly suicide, the 5th leading overall cause of death in China, has become the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 34.

Survey findings

In a survey of adults raised with unhealthy control, percentages who said:

As children they felt...

  • Forbidden to question or disagree with their parents: 90 percent

  • Pleasing their parents was more important than being themselves: 86 percent

  • Tense or on guard when their parents were around: 96 percent

  • That it was not okay to express anger, fear or sadness: 96 percent

  • Hemmed in and without choices: 96 percent

As adults they...

  • Feel perfectionistic, driven, or rarely satisfied:82 percent

  • Worry or ruminate over confrontations: 96 percent Are easily angered around controlling people: 91 percent

  • Feel extra-sensitive to criticism: 91 percent Feel tense when they think about visiting their parents: 78 percent

  • Feel that their parents don't really know them as they really are: 91 percent

  • Feel that it has taken a long time to separate from their parents: 82 percent

In retrospect, their parents...

  • Seemed unwilling to admit it when they were wrong: 100 percent

  • Seemed unaware of the pain they caused others: 100 percent

  • Viewed the world in right-or-wrong, black-and-white terms: 96 percent

  • Encouraged connections with others outside the family: 14 percent

  • Encouraged their children to express feelings: 5 percent

NYU study examines top high school students' stress and coping mechanisms

According to Leonard academic, athletic, social, and personal challenges have been regarded as domains of “good stress” for high school aged youth. However, there is growing awareness that many subgroups of youth experience high levels of chronic stress, to the extent that it impedes their abilities to succeed academically, compromises their mental health functioning, and fosters risk behavior. Furthermore, this chronic stress appears to persist into the college years, and Leonard warns it may contribute to academic disengagement and mental health problems among emerging adults.

“We are concerned that students in these selective, high pressure high schools can get burned out even before they reach college,” noted Leonard. “The Charles Engelhard Foundation is interested in the issue of college engagement, and funded us to explore whether the roots of disengagement reach back as far as high school. We found that indeed they do.”

♦ ♦ ♦

“I think that parental pressure (on schools and students) is real,” said a teacher with over twenty years of experience in the private school sector interviewed in the study’s fourth stage. “Parents are coming in and thinking, I’m (spending a lot of money) and I need to get something, a very tangible something. A great education is not a tangible something; a diploma from Harvard, Princeton or Yale …that’s tangible.”

Yet it has never been more difficult to enter one of these top-tier institutions, which may accept only 5 or 6 percent of their applicants, although in general a strong student will be able to gain access to any number of good colleges or universities. These highly selective schools and parents are responding to this competitive climate. Private schools have reacted by providing more difficult classes (which may require longer hours of challenging homework), college-level classes, and requiring extracurricular activities, as well as other opportunities for students to stand out, such as entrepreneurial or community service opportunities. Parents, in turn, may demand their children take Advanced Placement courses, even in cases where they are told their child is not a good fit for the course and may not be able to handle the work. Thus schools, parents, and students may feel caught in a cycle of escalating demands and expectations, largely out of their control and driven by greater societal factors.

A few tips for parents

  • Teach your child to cope with stress by building self esteem. Foster courage, the feeling that s/he is capable of coping with any problem.
  • Let your child make his/her own decision. Offer guidance, but leave the final decision to him/her. Help focus and stand by him/her.
  • Help your kids find themselves. What are their passions and interests? Not what you want them to know and experience.
  • Let them find their own path. Don't pressure your child to pursue a career that they don't want to have. They will work the hardest when they discover something they really want to do.
  • Make sure that you are not attempting to relive your life and recapture your unmet goals through your child.
  • Set a good example. Let your kid(s) see you enjoy life. It’s healthy for your child(ren) to see you taking time for yourself.

A few tips for children

Since it is near impossible to escape from one's parents, one has to learn how to deal with the situation. Start with discovering yourself. Realize that you are an individual with certain goals and desires -- think of how you are going to achieve them. Understand that even if your parents criticize you, it is not your fault. Also understand that your parents are not doing all this to hurt you on purpose. Try to find out the cause of their controlling behavior. Is it because they themselves had controlling parents or is it simply their unrealistic desire to make a perfect individual out of you? Once you have all these questions sorted out, try to recognize their controlling tactics. Next time you feel that they are assuming the same methods, sit and talk it out with them. For some this may work but for others, their parents might just refuse to see reason. Don't confront or get into an argument the next time they interfere with your decisions. Do what you think is right when they question you about your action. Instead, reassure them in a calm way that what you are doing is right. For some adults stricter handling of parents may be required. Refuse them permission to control your life anymore. However, when you do this, be polite and firm at the same time.

* Remember that your mind is yours alone *

It can only be controlled if you allow it to be. Controlling behaviors are ultimately the controller's attempt to meet his or her own needs. When you do something, even if you are forced, find the reason you want to do it. You're the strong one when you find ways to meet their needs and yours, without allowing them to get into your mind. They can force you to pretend to be something you're not, but they can't change who you actually are.

Tips for family that reduce high levels of stress in youth

  • Use the simple recognition note which is powerful way to recognize positive things in younger one.

  • Discuss the everyday task which will be completed by children.

  • A simple smile and sense produces a wave of neurotransmitters in the brain that supports a sense of satisfaction and safety which is most simple way to reduce level of stress.

  • Develop supportive relation with youth.

  • Talk respectfully with youth.

  • Give the facility to make their own choices.

Today’s youth experiencing high levels of stress

It's important to note that findings from a variety of studies indicate that today's youth are experiencing high levels of stress. The top reasons for stress are finances, unemployment and work dissatisfaction.

Further reading

  • 8 positive ways to affect your child's career
  • Signs of Overcontrol
  • Narcissistic Parents’ Psychological Effect on Their Children
  • Narcissistic parenting: When you compete through your child
  • Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children
  • Why Affluent Parents Put So Much Pressure on Their Kids


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