Parenting and Mental Health
Common parenting styles, behaviors, and traits that can lead to mental health and behavioral issues. *TRIGGER WARNING FOR ABUSE*
Arielle Del Rosario
The influence of parents on their children is inarguable. A healthy parent-child relationship increases the likelihood of kids developing strong self-esteem and healthy coping mechanisms. Parents should protect their children against adversity while still establishing reasonable boundaries to help them succeed. Many parents, however, use harmful methods or set a toxic example for the child to follow, increasing their vulnerability to mental illness, and emotional/behavioral issues.
In the US, nearly 8 million children are reported to experience physical abuse, and it’s very likely there are more. Childhood abuse is strongly linked to the development of several mental illnesses and behavioral issues in adulthood such as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, hostility, difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships, inability to display or perceive affection, and control issues (including OCD).
Parents who hit or beat their kids might justify it as discipline, or a necessary evil, without considering the effects beyond physical harm. In fact, hitting children on occasion is normalized in some cultures. Abuse causes neurological changes and trauma, which are difficult to identify and treat effectively, leaving children who suffer from abuse largely untreated and susceptible to worsening symptoms in the future.
To combat the effects of physical abuse, parents should refrain from ever using violence against their children because it promotes fear and distrust rather than teaching them anything useful. Instead, parents should discuss with the child what they did wrong and how to prevent it in the future. If violence is used, parents must apologize to their children in order to restore safety and trust in the relationship.
General Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse can encompass bullying, manipulation, threats, demands, isolation, and more. It is essentially behaviors targeted at a child that result in hurting them, and is strongly linked with the development of depression, social anxiety, and substance abuse.
Emotional abuse is sometimes disregarded as “not real abuse” since there is no physical evidence of harm. It may also be misinterpreted as strict parenting, where parents believe they are doing what’s best for their child. This sentiment is both harmful and objectively false, since emotional abuse results in mental illness and emotional disturbances at similar or greater rates than sexual and physical abuse. This parent-child dynamic can result in serious trust issues, low self-esteem, helplessness, and repressed emotions.
Parents should know how to differentiate from discipline and psychological abuse. They should pay attention to how they confront their children and if they are communicating with their child rather than berating them. Typically, if it seems like a child is distant, insecure, or secretive, it can indicate distrust in the relationship and signal to the parents that they need to reevaluate their parenting methods before their child’s mental health deteriorates.
Overly Critical Parents
Parents who excessively criticize their child may believe they are guiding them in the right direction and teaching good values. The short term consequences of over-criticism are destructive, as the child is encouraged to rebel to reclaim control over their self-image to spite their parents, fueled by anger and resentment.
The long-term effects are also detrimental, as the child may become violent and self-sabotaging. Additionally, these children may become overly-dependent on external validation, leading to an extremely low self-esteem and trust issues. This type of parenting can also be linked with the development of ADHD and extreme difficulty adapting to change, resulting in unhealthy coping mechanisms and stagnancy. Teens of overly-critical parents may also develop a perfectionist mindset in an attempt to satisfy their parents, which is an indicator of OCD and eating disorders.
It’s not harmful to criticize on occasion, in fact, it’s necessary to point out behaviors that could be harmful or unhealthy in order to encourage sustainable habits. To avoid the effects of excessive criticism, parents should identify what hurtful nitpicking is (ex. the clothes you wear make you look hideous, don’t you want to be presentable? You’re so useless! You’re never going to get anywhere in life acting like that) and what constructive criticism is (ex. I noticed you’re easily irritable, let’s talk about it and resolve any issues you might have that could cause you to act this way because it’s potentially harmful).
These parents are over involved and over controlling.. They micromanage every aspect of their child’s life, have little to no boundaries, and practically suffocate their child. At first glance this parenting style might not seem too bad, sure it’s a bit much but they’re just looking out for their child, right?
By managing everything in your child’s life, you prevent them from discovering new things by themselves, leaving them dependent on authority and unable to make decisions alone. They may also develop low self-esteem, unhealthy coping mechanisms, stagnancy, and even experience an identity crisis in their teens years or young adulthood due to their lives being largely out of their control.
Over-involvement also increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and OCD-related disorders. They may experience anxiety when left alone in difficult situations and become extremely self-conscious of their abilities (or lack thereof). In teenage years, helicoptered kids may rebel to establish control over their lives, which is extremely risky considering their inexperience with independent decision-making. This puts them at risk of reckless behavior with dangerous consequences. Especially when transitioning into college, teens of helicopter parents are more likely to rely on medication for their mental health issues. They demonstrate emotional instability or hypersensitivity when faced with challenges, and display harmful coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.
Risk Factors Regarding Parents
Good parenting has the potential to overcome other risk factors such as socioeconomic status, racial bias, location, and even disability that could inhibit a child’s success. Unfortunately, the negative effects of bad parenting are too common, with 9-15% of children under 5 years of age demonstrating significant emotional problems that are likely to escalate over time.
Children of parents displaying emotional and interpersonal difficulties, such as anger issues and detachment, pose a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm in their teen years. Furthermore, children of parents with diagnosed mental illnesses are likely to inherit them if paired with an unhealthy home environment. Even with the strong link between parenting issues and mental health issues, many parents may dismiss the warning signs of mental illness in their children as “teenage melodrama” and refuse to acknowledge their own faults, thus worsening the mental health of the child, and continuing their toxic parenting methods.
The majority of parenting issues have a common theme: unhealthy mindsets of the parents and disregard for the feelings of their children. If parents analyzed their own unhealthy behaviors, they would be more likely to correct them. If accompanied by actively listening to a child, a more trusting family dynamic would develop, and mental health issues/behavioral issues could be better understood and managed.