Controlling Parents Lead to Aggressive Children

Child and adolescent aggression is a growing concern in society. Instances of bullying are on the rise, and interventions aimed at preventing aggressive behavior in young people have barely begun to make a dent in this problem. Research focused on childhood aggression has looked at factors that contribute to hostile behavior and found a direct link between parenting practices and child behavior. Some evidence suggests that insecure attachments may lead to aggressive behavior in children, while other theories point to exposure to violence as a pathway for learned aggression. But few studies have looked at how a particular behavior, that of psychological control, influences relational aggression in children. To explore this issue in depth, Sofie Kuppens of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the University of Leuven in Belgium recently led a study assessing how parental relational aggression affects adolescent aggressive behavior.

Kuppens analyzed data from 23 studies that involved nearly 9,000 young people and found that there was a direct connection between psychological control asserted by parents and relational aggression, behavior that is less subtle than verbal or physical aggression, including intimidation, rumor spreading, and eye rolling, in children. Specifically, Kuppens discovered that at a time when children are trying to find their own identities and working to assert independence, they are most vulnerable to the effects of their parents’ psychological control. “The positive correlation indicates that the more parents attempt to excessively control their child’s psychological world, the more youth act relationally aggressive toward peers,” she said.

These results were not robust, however, and indicate that there are many other factors that shape how a child will interact with their peers. For instance, teens who are unable to accurately process and interpret the social cues of others may misinterpret them and act erroneously. This emotional processing deficit may be an indirect result of psychological control, or could be the result of other types of abuse and maltreatment. Although this study does provide a fresh look at how parental behavior affects a child’s social interactions, more work needs to be done to uncover all of the factors that contribute to aggressive behavior in children and teens.

Kuppens, S., Laurent, L., Heyvaert, M., Onghena, P. (2012). Associations between parental psychological control and relational aggression in children and adolescents: A multilevel and sequential meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030740

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The preceding article summarizes research or news from periodicals or related source material in the fields of mental health and psychology. did not participate in or condone any studies, or conclucions thereof, that may have been cited. Any views or opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by

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  • trish

    December 15th, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    oh kids and teens can easily be affected by things that we may not think a lot never know what little thing you say or do can cause harm to them, that’s a developing mind.while there is no strict guide or points to follow to be a good parent I think some things just need to be understood- and one of them is to not be aggressive to or even in the presence of can really affect them and their future actions,actions that may come in the way of their development.

  • GreenHead

    December 15th, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Its much like the sand analogy.Holding it too tight will make it slip away.As parents, there are rules to have for yourself, too much control and authority has never gotten anyone anywhere and it will not as a parent either.If anything,you are only making your child more like yourself,aggressive and subjecting them to hardships that are easy to prevent just by a little action on your part as a parent.

  • amanda

    December 15th, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    The shooter of the devastation that happened in Connecticut supposedly had a ridgid mother.

  • richelle

    December 16th, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    not only are you not channelizing their frustrations and anger the right way by giving them an outlet,you are also heaping your own frustrations on their own.and when there is no outlet it will build up inside and will one day explode like a a proactive parent but not one that is a dictator.choose a moderate path and do not be rigid with your children.

  • Coleman

    December 16th, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    @ amanda- I know that we are all looking for answers in that case, but there are so many other contributing issues that I think that it is wrong to only point the finger of blame in one direction. Aggression is something that can often come out of nowhere and there just are no easy answers, even when we feel like we need them. I find that in cases like this the most that we can do is accept what has happened and pray hard for the families who have been left behind to deal with the tragedy and the loss.

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