A study of thousands of Britons from their teens to their sixties found that adults whose parents intruded on their privacy in childhood or encouraged dependence were unhappier and had lower mental well-being.
The life-long negative impact was similar to that experienced by people who have suffered a bereavement, experts from University College London said. Scientists at University College London said parents who exert psychological control on their children, by not letting them make their own decisions and invading their privacy, risk inflicting long-term mental damage in later life.
The news will rekindle the debate over so-called helicopter parents and tiger mothers who take an over-protective or excessive interest in their children’s lives, but often fail to show warmth or care.
Participants were monitored from 13 to 15 by teachers, and interviewed in their thirties, forties and sixties.
Dr Mai Stafford, of the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health & Ageing at UCL, said the results showed many parents should adjust their behaviour, adding: ‘People whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental well-being. ‘By contrast, psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental well-being.
Researchers warned the negative mental effects of having a psychologically controlling parents can be comparable to the anguish felt at the death of a close friend or relative.
‘Examples of psychological control include not allowing children to make decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence. ‘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 promote social and emotional development.’
The study, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, tracked 5,362 people from birth in 1946, with 2,000 completing the survey in their sixties. They were also asked about behavioural control, which included not letting them get their own way as children. But no links with psychological well-being were found in relation to how strict or relaxed their parents were.
It was also found that their father’s care had more of an impact on their lives, but in their forties their mother’s psychological control was more significant, perhaps because many had children themselves.
Source: DMonline/Journal of Positive Psychology