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Related Topics
Intrusive ParentingReview - Intrusive Parenting
How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents
by Brian K. Barber
American Psychological Association , 2002
Review by Patricia Ferguson
Sep 13th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 37)

The APA has published a 308-page book on research on parenting styles, edited by Brian K. Barber. The book looks at two types of parenting: the more harmful psychological control and the more appropriate behavioral control. The book is a scholarly book based on solid research by several contributing researchers. It is intended for “scholars and others interested in parent-child relationships.” This book would be a good textbook for graduate students of psychology and related fields, and belongs on a shelf of serious reference for professors teaching students about families and parenting based on research. The clinical applications are numerous and are outlined by the authors.

The book begins with a chapter by Barber, where he compares the two different styles of parenting (psychological and behavioral), a review of previous research, and a discussion of the how the rest of the book will add to the topic. From there, the book proceeds to describe much more recent research that is greatly improved from a research design viewpoint. For instance, the newer research uses more measurements than self-report (such as multiple informants), and it uses multiple measurements as well. Also, the newer research controls for possible extraneous variables, uses larger samples, uses a long-term longitudinal method, includes younger children, not just adolescents, and discusses the implications of the research outcomes.

The more appropriate behavioral control is when a parent monitors behaviors, such as activities, manners, chores and school or other important issues. On the other hand, psychological control is more passive and insidious, more controlling, and harmful. It is when a parent has control over the child’s psychological world, such as feelings, identity, and even verbal expressions of the child’s internal world. Psychological control induces guilt, shame, and problems such as aggression or depression, low self-esteem, and alienation. Behavioral control, in contrast, uses consistent disciplinary practices and allows the child to discuss opposing viewpoints.

By reading Barber’s definition of psychological control and the definitions throughout the book of both types, it is easy to see that the more harmful style to the child is psychological control. Barber uses a quote from his earlier research that draws not only on his works but the works of others, in which he states that psychological control “…is nonresponsive to the child’s emotional and psychological needs…” and the child is given limited opportunities to develop a sense of personal efficacy.

With psychological control, the child is treated in such a way that there is no opportunity for self-expression and other healthy modes of interacting in the world. The book describes parents who use this style as engaging in intruding, manipulative, and inhibiting behaviors and styles of interaction. Behavioral control, in contrast, is less covert and more direct, and allows the child to explore the world on his or her own, within set limits. Typically, behavioral control is what is taught in parenting classes while psychological control is not.

The book looks at all the different outcomes; the different correlates of each style, and increases the reader’s understanding of what each of these styles is, and most importantly, how harmful it can be to use psychological control. Difficulties that children and adolescents have who have been raised with psychological rather than behavioral control are described in detail and the research has improved over time in this area, as evidenced by this book. For instance, children raised with psychological control have an external locus of control. On the other hand, those who are raised with behavioral controls have an internal locus of control. Similarly, research has shown that children raised with behavioral controls have parents who are more involved in a positive way with their lives, and there are less conflict in the home between the parents, compared to those raised with psychological control.

The more current research also reviewed the gender of the parent and the child, where relevant, and found that there is a correlation between gender and style of parenting. For instance, one study found that where a father and mother are having conflict, the father who uses psychological control by withdrawing from his wife will also do so with his daughter, Also, the parenting styles were studied using specific populations, such as those with spina bifida, and psychological control is found to be higher with this group. The importance of this for children with disabilities is obvious. Demographics as a variable are also included as a chapter in the book, as cross-cultural comparisons have also been done and are included in the book, too.

Although many studies showed correlational results that would suggest cause and effect, this is not always true. Therefore, in addition to recommending better statistical analyses in future studies, the current studies in the book did use the better analyses, as well as general overall better research methods. Thus, the book ends with not only a summary of the research, but suggestions for future research, and implications of the findings. Recommendations included viewing subgroup differences in psychological control more carefully, more clearly stating the affects of psychological control through better analyses, and discovering why some parents use psychological control.


© 2002 Patricia Ferguson



 Dr. Patricia Ferguson is a licensed clinical psychologist in northern California. She is also a published freelance writer and editor in many different areas, including ADVANCE for radiation technicians, MedioCom, and The Journal of Interpersonal Violence. She was honored to be placed in Who's Who of Women for the Year 2000. Her areas of interest are varied. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from San Diego State University and received her doctorate from Nova University in Florida. She enjoys traveling, camping, and playing guitar. She also has sold a few pieces of her artwork. Most importantly to her, she enjoys her family time, including her husband, daughter, 20, and son, 14.


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