Differentiating Forms Of Parental Control
The research on parenting styles has viewed parental control as a single dimension that ranges from excessive control to insufficient control, but research that began in the early 1990s has focused on distinguishing among different forms of parental control. The primarily distinctions are between psychological control and behavioral control. As described by Steinberg (1990) and elaborated by Brian Barber and his colleagues (Barber 1996, 2002), psychological control refers to parents' attempts to control children's activities in ways that negatively affect their psychological world. Psychological control, including parental intrusiveness, guilt induction, and love withdrawal, undermines psychosocial development by interfering with children's ability to become independent and develop a healthy sense of self and personal identity. In contrast, behavioral control refers to the rules, regulations, and restrictions that parents have for their children and their supervision and management of their activities. One aspect of behavioral control that has been extensively investigated is parental supervision and monitoring, or parents' awareness of where their children are, who they are with, and what they are doing. Parental monitoring is increasingly important in adolescence, as adolescents spend less time with their parents and more time with peers. This distinction between psychological and behavioral control further distinguishes the parenting styles described by Baumrind. Authoritative parents, who have firm rules for their children's behavior, use a great deal of behavioral control but little psychological control. In contrast, authoritarian parents use both.
Research has demonstrated that high levels of psychological control are associated with children's internalizing problems, such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, and confusion. Both inadequate behavioral control and high levels of psychological control also have been found to be associated with externalizing problems, such as acting out, drug use, truancy, and antisocial behavior.
Barber (2002) provides evidence that psychological control (or closely related constructs) is relevant cross-culturally. Psychological control has been found in males and females in a range of cultures (including Mexico, China, India, Russia, Israel, Colombia, Australia, and South Africa, as reviewed by Barber 2002). These cultures vary in degree of industrialization, extent of individualism versus collectivism, religion, and exposure to political violence. Psychological control is related to internalizing and externalizing problems in a variety of cultures, much as has been found in the United States. Summarizing the available research, Barber (2002) found higher levels of psychological control reported by males than females, by younger than older children, among lower than upper socioeconomic status families, and by ethnic minority than European American families. However, these conclusions are based on a relatively small number of studies that typically employ a single method to assess psychological control, so these conclusions must be confirmed by further research.
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