Parental Psychological Control of Children

In his book, Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents, published by the American Psychological Association, Brian Barber and his colleague, Elizabeth Harmon, define the psychological control of children by a parent:

“Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachment to parents.” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 15).

In table 1 on pages 29-32, Barber and Harmon list and describe 40 empirically validated scientific studies demonstrating the psychological control of children by parents. Forty studies in the scientific literature.

Parental psychological control of the child represents a violation of the psychological integrity of the child.

“The essential impact of psychological control of the child is to violate the self-system of the child.” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 24).

Barber and Harmon cite the established research regarding the damage that this violation of the child’s psychological integrity has on the child.

“Numerous elements of the child’s self-in-relation-to-parent have been discussed as being compromised by psychologically controlling behaviors such as…

individuality (Goldin, 1969; Kurdek, et al., 1995; Litovsky & Dusek, 1985; Schaefer, 1965a, 1965b, Steinberg, Lamborn, Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992);

individuation (Barber et al., 1994; Barber & Shagle, 1992; Costanzo & Woody, 1985; Goldin, 1969, Smetana, 1995; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986; Wakschlag, Chanse-Landsdale & Brooks-Gunn, 1996 1996);

independence (Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Hein & Lewko, 1994; Steinberg et al., 1994);

degree of psychological distance between parents and children (Barber et all, 1994);

and threatened attachment to parents (Barber, 1996; Becker, 1964)” (Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 25; emphasis added).

In Chapter 3 of Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents, published by the American Psychological Association, entitled “Interparental Conflict, Parental Psychological Control, and Youth Behavior Problems,” Stone, Buehler, and Barber describe their research on the association of parental psychological control of children and interparental conflict.

“Parental psychological control is defined as verbal and nonverbal behaviors that intrude on youth’s emotional and psychological autonomy.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, p. 57)

“One important aspect of covert interparental conflict is triangulating children (Minuchin, 1974). This involves active recruitment (even though this activity might be fairly subtle) or implicit approval of child-initiated involvement in the parents’ disputes.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 56)

“The central elements of psychological control are intrusion into the child’s psychological world and self-definition and parental attempts to manipulate the child’s thoughts and feelings through invoking guilt, shame, and anxiety. Psychological control is distinguished from behavioral control in that the parent attempts to control, through the use of criticism, dominance, and anxiety or guilt induction, the youth’s thoughts and feelings rather than the youth’s behavior.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, p. 57)

The empirically validated scientific research of Stone, Buehler, and Barber (2002) used two separate samples of families.

“This study was conducted using two different samples of youth. The first sample consisted of youth living in Knox County, Tennessee. The second sample consisted of youth living in Ogden, Utah.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 62)

“The analyses reveal that variability in psychological control used by parents is not random but it is linked to interparental conflict, particularly covert conflict. Higher levels of covert conflict in the marital relationship heighten the likelihood that parents would use psychological control with their children. This might be because both parental psychological control and covert conflict are anxiety-driven. They share defining characteristics, particularly the qualities of intrusiveness, indirectness, and manipulation.” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, p. 86)

“The concept of triangles “describes the way any three people related to each other and involve others in emotional issues between them” (Bowen, 1989, p. 306). In the anxiety-filled environment of conflict, a third person is triangulated, either temporarily or permanently, to ease the anxious feelings of the conflicting partners. By default, that third person is exposed to an anxiety-provoking and disturbing atmosphere. For example, a child might become the scapegoat or focus of attention, thereby transferring the tension from the marital dyad to the parent-child dyad. Unresolved tension in the marital relationship might spill over to the parent-child relationship through parents’ use of psychological control as a way of securing and maintaining a strong emotional alliance and level of support from the child. As a consequence, the triangulated youth might feel pressured or obliged to listen to or agree with one parents’ complaints against the other. The resulting enmeshment and cross-generational coalition would exemplify parents’ use of psychological control to coerce and maintain a parent-youth emotional alliance against the other parent (Haley, 1976; Minuchin, 1974)” (Stone, Buehler, and Barber, 2002, p. 86-87)

This is not a “new theory” of Dr. Childress. This is scientifically established fact. These quotes are from a book published by the American Psychological Association in 2002. Evidenced-based, empirically supported, scientifically established fact.

This is not a “new theory” of Dr. Childress. It’s called diagnosis. The application of scientifically established psychological constructs and principles to the child’s symptom display.

Once we define this form of family pathology using standard and established psychological principles and constructs, of personality disorder pathology, attachment-trauma pathology, and parental “psychological control” of children as established in the scientific literature (e.g., Barber, 2002), the solution becomes available immediately.

It is simply a matter of obtaining an accurate DSM-5 diagnosis of the pathology.

Pathogenic parenting that is creating significant developmental pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 1), personality disorder pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 2), and delusional-psychiatric pathology in the child (diagnostic indicator 3) in order to meet the emotional and psychological needs of the parent represents a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse, Confirmed (p. 719 of the DSM-5).

This is not a “new theory” – this is diagnosis.

Failure by any psychologist to appropriately assess for this pathology would represent a violation of Standard 9.01a of the ethics code of the American Psychological Association requiring that psychologists base their diagnostic statements on “information sufficient to substantiate their findings.”

If the psychologist does not know how to assess for this form of family pathology, then this would represent a violation of Standard 2.01a of the ethics code of the American Psychological Association regarding boundaries of professional competence.

If the psychologist does not know how to diagnose this form of family pathology, then this would represent a violation of Standard 2.01a of the ethics code of the American Psychological Association regarding boundaries of professional competence.

If harm then accrues to the client child and targeted parent because of the psychologist’s practice beyond the boundaries of professional competence and failure to appropriately assess the pathology (personality disorder pathology, attachment trauma pathology, and parental psychological control of the child) “sufficient to substantiate” their diagnostic findings, then this would represent a violation of Standard 3.04 of the ethics code of the American Psychological Association regarding avoiding harm to the client.

Psychologists – and all mental health professionals – are not allowed to be incompetent.

This is not a “new theory” of Dr. Childress.  This is diagnosis.  Based on scientifically established principles and constructs of professional psychology.

Barber’s book, Intrusive Parenting: How Psychological Control Affects Children and Adolescents was published by the American Psychological Association.

From Barber & Harmon: “Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that are intrusive and manipulative of children’s thoughts, feelings, and attachment to parents.” (2002, p. 15)

“… and attachment to parents.”

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Psychologist, PSY 18857

Barber, B. K. (Ed.) (2002). Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Barber, B. K., & Harmon, E. L. (2002). Violating the self: Parenting psychological control of children and adolescents. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting (pp. 15-52). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Stone, G., Buehler, C., & Barber, B. K.. (2002) Interparental conflict, parental psychological control, and youth problem behaviors. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents. Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.

2 thoughts on “Parental Psychological Control of Children”

  1. You have a follower that she claims you have been in contact with she has a total of five children the first one has totally different father who is now early 30s has nothing to do with her mother. the next three from a different father who the one she’s claimed has autism and Asperger’s to get attention .we had to prove that he was a normal child due to her she put the first daughter and this child in mental institutions when they were four years of age. One of the reason she lost custody of them now she’s claiming were alienating her and you’re helping her. you’re too stupid to realize how sick she is diagnosed with histrionic personality ,bipolar narcissistic personality. so two children out of five see her the one she has full custody of because her new husband is afraid of her. she has joined every parent alienation group there is on Facebook and does nothing but state the father is alienating her children which is so wrong she has done and look what she’s done to these kids I think you better find out the real facts on her before you start allowing her to use you as her witness in court or her psychiatrist or whatever you were trying to help her with

    1. People claim many things. My work is broadly available both through my book Foundations and through my blog and website. Any individual professional consultation I provide is through a standard contract with an attorney that establishes my role as an expert consultant and witness regarding a specific case. If I have not entered into this specific professional relationship, then any “assistance” I may provide is through my book Foundations and through the publicly available information on my website and blog. People claim many things that may not necessarily be accurate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s