Study Says Controlling Parents Create Mean College Students

Mother and daughter arguing outsideCollege students whose parents attempt to control them through guilt, shame, or manipulation may cope with their stress by being mean to their peers, according to a study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

How Controlling Parenting Contributes to Problematic Behavior

Jamie Abaied, a University of Vermont assistant professor of psychological science, and her colleagues recruited 180 college students, most of whom were female. College students are often still financially or emotionally dependent upon their parents, the researchers say, so parenting style can continue to influence them even when they reach legal adulthood.

Each student completed a questionnaire about their parents’ behavior. Parents who engaged in behavior such as withdrawing money or criticizing their children were deemed highly controlling. The use of digital technologies such as texting and social media may further controlling behavior because it allows parents and their children to stay in constant contact. Thus parents no longer need to see or live with their children to manipulate their behavior.

Researchers also interviewed the students, inquiring about painful interactions with loved ones such as boyfriends or girlfriends. As the students discussed the event, researchers recorded their sweat levels as a way to measure emotional distress. Students with higher levels of stress were more likely to react in aggressive or impulsive ways, such as sending a mean-spirited text or email.

Students who displayed higher levels of aggression were more likely to have controlling parents. The connection between relational aggression and controlling parenting has already been demonstrated in younger children, but this study is one of the first to look at controlling parenting in adult children.

In 2015, another study found children of less controlling and warmer parents were happier.


Shapiro, C. (2016, January 20). Study: What happens when controlling parents follow kids to college. Retrieved from

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  • nina

    January 26th, 2016 at 10:44 AM

    Probably because this is the only time that they have ever felt safe to express to others what has been given to them. This doesn’t excuse the behavior but it could be part of the issue.

  • Chapman

    January 26th, 2016 at 3:45 PM

    Mean people are going to be mean people, and maybe they are trying to come to terms with who they really are and we have all been told that college is the time to experiment and learn more about who we are.Unfortunately maybe they are just finding out the really nasty side of themselves when in this environment. There comes a time when you can’t blame the parents for everything.

  • joel

    January 27th, 2016 at 11:31 AM

    I seriously don’t see how these things can even correlate?

  • Gemma

    January 28th, 2016 at 11:51 AM

    In some ways I would have thought that having more controlling parents would make you more meek, intimidated even, by having to face off against other people. I know that my mom was always a pretty controlling character in my life so I always just wanted to shrink and try to blend in with the scenery so that maybe she wouldn’t notice me so much and take out her frustrations on me.

  • zachary

    January 29th, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    who’s definition of what “mean” is?

  • Penelope

    January 30th, 2016 at 2:39 PM

    MY goal is to not be mean to my children nor controlling, but I do think that they need to know who rules the roost and who is in charge of the rules at home.
    I think that there are a lot of kids who have no rules at home because they are too busy trying to be friends with their kids.
    Our children have plenty of friends. What they need is leadership and responsibility and those are the things that I am trying to teach mine.

  • Trish

    January 31st, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    This is the time when you come into your own and leave what happened when you were a child behind you!

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