Characteristics of a Controlling Parent

By Flora Richards-Gustafson
Mother looking at her son while laying on living room floor.
Mother looking at her son while laying on living room floor.

It’s natural for a parent to guide a child as he grows -- after all, you want and expect the best from him. This guidance may go too far, however, and lead to overly controlling behaviors. Clinical and developmental psychologist Dr. Diana Baumrind identified three parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian and permissive. Controlling parents have an authoritarian style and tend to display similar behaviors that stem from their own insecurities.

Mommy Knows Best

An overly controlling parent may be a perfectionist who thinks her way is the only correct way. She tends to do things for her child that he can do by himself because she thinks that she can do it better, according to the “Empowering Parents” website. Similarly, a controlling parent may give her child little freedom to think for himself. According to Kansas State University, a parent may do this because she is afraid that her child will not need her if he has more autonomy. Consequently, the child may feel resentful, powerless, as if he isn’t good enough. As he grows and gains more responsibilities, the child may find it to difficult to transition into adult roles and make decisions by himself. If the child does act independently from his mother, he may feel guilty.

High Expectations

It is not uncommon for a controlling parent to overly dissect a child’s social life, appearance or hobbies, according to Neuharth. As a perfectionist, the parent may place unrealistic expectations on his child, such as receiving perfect scores on all her exams and not allowing her to debate his standards. This behavior may lead a teen to act rebelliously or become dependent on her parents to do things or make decisions for her. When a parent places high expectations on physical appearance, a child may develop low self-esteem, which could lead to drastic consequences, such as developing an eating disorder to gain a parent’s acceptance.

Forbidden Privacy

It’s natural for a parent to be inquisitive of what her child is doing, feeling and thinking. A controlling parent may violate her child’s right to privacy, according to Neuharth. This lack of privacy may result from a parent’s distrustful nature. The invasion of privacy can extend beyond a mother wanting to know the details of her kid’s social and academic life to feeling the need to chaperone her child when he goes out with his friends, even if he is in his mid- to late-teens. Other controlling behaviors can include reading a child’s diary or not allowing the child to have a door on his bedroom. As a child matures, he naturally seeks more autonomy. When a parent invades privacy-related boundaries, her child may feel as if he cannot trust her or as if she betrayed him, according to psychologist Romeo Vitelli in an August 2013 article for Psychology Today. Consequently, a controlling parent may end up knowing less about her child if the young person responds to his parent’s behavior with greater secrecy.

Manipulative Motives

Some controlling parents lead their children to believe that their love and affection is conditional. Psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor states that a controlling parent may use love to as a reward for success and illogical punishments for perceived failures. Such punishments can cause a child to feel a sense of abandonment, have a seemingly abnormal drive to succeed and/or live in a state of ongoing fear of failure. Alternatively, a controlling parent may use love, affection and attention as bribes to make a child do what he wants. The tasks, however, may be unrealistic and the parent may never reward the child for her efforts. In such a situation, a child may grow up thinking that her actions and success are the only things that make her lovable.

About the Author

Flora Richards-Gustafson has been writing professionally since 2003. She creates copy for websites, marketing materials and printed publications. Richards-Gustafson specializes in SEO and writing about small-business strategies, health and beauty, interior design, emergency preparedness and education. Richards-Gustafson received a Bachelor of Arts from George Fox University in 2003 and was recognized by Cambridge's "Who's Who" in 2009 as a leading woman entrepreneur.