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The Over-Controlling Parenting Style (Autocratic)

Over-controlling parents are also called autocratic parents. The over-controlling parenting style seems the most extreme and negative. There are two types of over-controlling parenting styles, Power Patrols and Perfectionistic Supervisors. One is more extreme and negative than the other, but there are some traits that are common to almost all over-controlling parenting styles.

 

ANSWERS TO COMMON QUESTIONS

What is the parent’s job?

Over-controlling parents believe a parent’s job is to control their children. (We detail, later, what they want to control and how they try to control.)

Who has rights?

Over-controlling parents stand up for their rights, but often at the expense of their children’s rights. Winning is important, even if it means the children “lose.” The family revolves around the parents’ needs or wants, without considering their children’s feelings or needs.

Over-controlling families have a pecking order: parents are superior to children, older children are superior to younger children, and younger children are at the bottom of the ranks. If there are two parents present, both are superior to children or one parent is considered superior to the other.

Who gets respect?

Children are expected to treat their parents with respect, but parents are not obligated to treat children with respect.

How are mistakes handled?

Because parents are adults, they are always right. When someone points out their mistakes or offers a different opinion, over-controlling parents feel defensive, rather than admitting to and learning from their mistakes or considering other points of view.

How are problems solved and decisions made?

Over-controlling parents make the decisions and solve the problems that arise in the family, even problems or decisions that don’t directly affect them. They believe they have the right answers and want their children to do the right thing, so they do what they can to make their children follow their advice.

Who decides how children should behave, which interests they pursue, and the goals they set?

Over-controlling parents want their children to have the behaviors, opinions, personality traits, feelings, goals, and values the parents think their children should have.

 Who is responsible for controlling the child’s behavior?

It is the parents’ responsibility to do whatever it takes to make children behave the way they think children should behave.

Who makes the rules and how are they enforced?

Over-controlling parents want their children to unquestioningly obey all authority figures and their rules. They tell children what to do and how to do it. Sometimes, parents expect children to obey their commands even when they are unreasonable or beyond their children’s ability.

Over-controlling parents use “power tools” to control their children. It is important for children to follow rules, but over-controlling parents emphasize the superiority or power of the enforcer, rather than the value of the rule. Instead of fostering respect for all people, over-controlling parents emphasize adults’ authority. Children behave and do what others tell them to do so they can avoid harsh punishment or criticism.

 

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How do parents discipline?

Over-controlling parents use punishment that imposes suffering of various degrees and types— mental, emotional (shame), or physical suffering. If something goes wrong, it is somehow the child’s fault.

 

SYMBOL FOR OVER-CONTROLLING PARENTING

In the book, Active Parenting, author Michael Popkin calls over-controlling parenting “autocratic.” He uses the symbol of an empty circle to represent limits with no choices. We use his symbol to represent the over-controlling parenting style.

 

LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF OVER-CONTROLLING PARENTING

  • When children are denied all power and control, they miss important opportunities to make decisions and learn valuable life skills. They take little initiative because they lack confidence and are afraid of making mistakes or not being perfect. 
  • Children from over-controlling families usually wait for others to set limits for them, rather than setting limits for themselves. If they do something wrong, they are more inclined to lie, to avoid harsh punishment. When they are punished, they either seek revenge or give in out of fear and become blindly submissive to any authority figure. Hence, they don’t learn to think for themselves.
  • Children and young adults from over-controlling families function well in controlled, structured settings, unless they are rebelling against authority. They have difficulty, however, functioning in permissive settings where no one sets limits for them. When they have excessive freedom, they take advantage of it or can’t decide what to do. When they are away from the controlling parent, they frequently engage in excessive behavior (eating, drinking, sex, television-watching, or partying). 
  • Over-controlling parenting poorly prepares children for today’s business world, where employers need adults who can take initiative, think for themselves, and perform independently, with little outside guidance. Adults who were reared in over-controlling families often have difficulty in these areas because they rely on others to tell them what to do and are afraid of making mistakes.

TYPES OF OVER-CONTROLLING PARENTS

The two types of over-controlling parents are Power Patrols and Perfectionistic Supervisors. The following descriptions detail the ways these two parenting types expand on the general traits of the over-controlling parenting style.

 

Power Patrols

The Power Patrol parenting style, in its most extreme form, is physically or emotionally abusive. Power Patrols are not, however, always abusive. They are simply more concerned with the love of power than the power of love. They want to be in control of situations and the people in them.

Personality Traits of Power Patrols

Power Patrols make strong leaders, but can be bossy, have little patience or flexibility, and want to see immediate results. They expect unquestioning obedience and want things done their way, because it is the right way. They view compromising as losing or giving in, and often get into power struggles with their children and other adults.

Power Patrols often have difficulty establishing warmth and closeness in their relationships. They often appear angry and resent anyone who tries to control them. Their insensitivity to others’ feelings usually shuts down communication. Power Patrols are often argumentative and take

 

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different viewpoints just to stay in control. They don’t realize (or don’t care) what it’s like to be on the receiving end of their demands, orders and criticisms. 

What Power Patrols Believe

A parent’s job is to make sure children always follow the rules and to punish them if they break the rules. Children must obey all rules and authority figures or they will grow up to be delinquents. (Studies of delinquent teens have found, however, that angry, aggressive children are often from families where at least one parent is rejecting, hostile, critical, controlling, or revengeful.)

How Power Patrols Handle Negative Feelings

Power Patrols usually think in black and white, right and wrong, my way and the wrong way. They don’t allow children to express negative feelings, because they fear they won’t be able to control the situation, the child, or themselves. They usually think their children’s opinions and negative feelings are wrong so they should not express them. When children speak their minds, Power Patrols usually think they are being disrespectful and defiant.

The Power Patrol’s Tools

Power Patrols use commands and threats to motivate children. When children misbehave or challenge their authority, Power Patrols fear they are losing the battle for control. If verbal threats, shame, or blame don’t work, they might resort to physical punishment. They believe that if negative behavior brings emotional or physical suffering, children will stop.

Long-Term Effects of Power-Patrol Parenting

  • Children of Power Patrols often feel discouraged, have little self-respect, and have a poor relationship with that parent. It is difficult to trust someone you fear, so children build walls to protect themselves from being hurt by the Power Patrol’s rejection, criticism, judgment, and harshness. Power Patrols are often unaware of how hurt others are by their actions and words or the unhealthy lessons they are teaching.
  • Children don’t respect the Power Patrol’s authority; they fear it. Children obey rules so they won’t get punished, not because they respect the parent’s judgment, see value in the rule, and choose to follow it. Children of Power Patrols are other-disciplined; they often behave only when adults are watching. They wait for the next command, taking little initiative, since they fear mistakes.
  • Children of Power Patrols are often impressed with the power their parents have over them and seek ways to have power over others. When they are in positions of power, they often try to control others, get their way, and prove they are right. Since children don’t learn assertive, respectful communication skills, they often have negative relationships with others.
  • If children (and adult children) don’t rebel or strive to be in control, they are likely to blindly follow orders from those they perceive as superior (including bossy peers).

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  • If Power Patrols tell their children they are controlling or hurting them because they love them, the effects can last a lifetime. As adults, they may equate love with pain, physical or emotional, and stay in abusive relationships. They often believe they deserve to be abused and that the abuse is somehow their fault. As adults, children can make a choice to repeat the errors of their upbringing or break the cycle of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.


Perfectionistic Supervisors

Perfectionistic Supervisors are the more positive but still imbalanced, type of over-controlling parent.

Personality Traits of Perfectionistic Supervisors

Perfectionistic Supervisors are usually highly capable adults—self-disciplined, organized, scheduled, and responsible— and they expect children to be that way, too. Perfectionistic Supervisors are the ultimate super-achievers — they hold down a job, volunteer at school or the family’s religious group, coach a team, assume most household responsibilities, and write a book in their spare time. (Have you guessed that this is the way I become imbalanced?) People admire their accomplishments, so they pressure themselves to achieve more and never disappoint others.

Some professions, such as teaching or management, require qualities that come naturally to Perfectionistic Supervisors. They must be organized, manage large groups, point out mistakes, and keep to a schedule. These qualities, if not extreme or critical, can be helpful. At home, however, children can feel pressured or controlled and believe their efforts are never good enough.

What Perfectionistic Supervisors Believe

Constant supervision and structure will prevent children from misbehaving. They also believe their children’s behavior is a reflection of whether they are good parents, which influences some of their parenting decisions.

How Perfectionistic Supervisors Handle Negative Feelings

Perfectionistic Supervisors overuse the word should. When they listen, they often judge feelings and opinions as right or wrong and try to make their children fit the mold of what they think people or children should think, feel, believe, or be like.

The Perfectionistic Supervisor’s Tools

Perfectionistic Supervisors often go beyond taking an active interest in their children’s activities and identities. They take responsibility for scheduling and monitoring the child’s responsibilities. They try to improve their children through rewards, incentives, and goal-setting. They reward their children for their compliance by telling them they are proud and happy to have such “good” children. They try to correct their children’s mistakes and weaknesses through suggestions, nagging, criticizing, lecturing, and guilt trips (“I’m disappointed in you”). If these techniques don’t work, Perfectionistic Supervisors increase their control by taking away special privileges, even if they have no logical relation to what the child did.

 

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Long-Term Effects of Perfectionistic Supervisor Parenting

Children of Perfectionistic Supervisors are usually on time, perfectly dressed, well-mannered, and finish their school work promptly—because the parent makes sure of it. Their parents are often unaware, however, that their short-term successes have many negative long-term effects and unhealthy hidden messages: 

  • Children of Perfectionistic Supervisors often express resentment, frustration, and discouragement because their parents have unrealistic expectations. They usually lack self-confidence and think they are a disappointment to their parents, because nothing they do is ever good enough. They try to please other people, so no one will ever be disappointed in them. This inhibits their curiosity, creativity, individuality, and problem-solving or decision-making skills.
  • Children behave and do their work because they get rewards—material payoffs, acceptance, and conditional praise—not because they are self-motivated.
  • Separation issues are often difficult for Perfectionistic Supervisors because they think they are losing control of their children. When their children try to spread their wings, these parents often have difficulty letting go. The children resent this ongoing control and struggle to control their own lives. As teens, their children might rebel, to prove they can’t be controlled.
  • As teens, children of Perfectionistic Supervisors frequently display obsessive, over-achieving, or perfectionist habits. They practically kill themselves (sometimes literally) trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. If they are not obsessed with trying to prove their worth and don’t rebel, they might simply give up trying.
  • As adults, children of Perfectionistic Supervisors often have strict rules about what is right and wrong. They usually see things in black and white and having difficulty operating in gray areas.

Until the 1950s, most parents used an over-controlling (autocratic) parenting style, which fit the structure of society and most families. Back then, there was a pecking order of superiors and inferiors. At home, the father was the supreme ruler, the mother was expected to obey him, and the children were supposed to obey both of them. To succeed in the workplace people said, “Yes, Sir. No, Sir. What do you want me to do next, Sir?” If someone in authority told people to do something, they did it—without question. Autocratic parenting was the style that best prepared children for the real world then.

 

HISTORICAL TRENDS IN AUTOCRATIC PARENTING

The 1960s brought a major shift in American society, from a superior/inferior structure to one of equaworth and rights. Civil rights, women’s rights, laborers’ rights, minority rights, and children’s rights forever changed American society. Only when children believe adults are superior and infallible do they believe adults have the right to punish or hurt them.

Did you know . . .

In America, there were laws and agencies to protect animal from abuse and neglect long before children received the same protection? If children were abused, people called the local animal shelter to intervene!

Teenagers in the 1960s resented adults telling them what to do and rebelled against their autocratic control: how to wear their hair, what clothes to wear, which profession to enter, whether to go to college or be drafted into war. They believed they had a right to voice their feelings, opinions, and make decisions about issues that affected them. Autocratic parenting did not allow for such individuality. Drugs and “the sexual revolution” provided a temporary escape and a new way to rebel. Parents saw they were losing control. The professionals who tried to help these parents recognized this rebellion against authority and encouraged parents to loosen their reins. So began a new trend—permissive parenting.