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Description: There has been quite a bit of speculation about what is “wrong” with emerging adults (18- to 29-year-olds) these days. This typically occurs as part of reflections upon the significant rise (jump) in levels of anxiety among undergraduate student in general and first year students in particular. Putting aside non-useful hypotheses such as that young people these days are snowflakes it is important that this very real increase in levels of anxiety and related fears of failure and perfectionism be better understood. You may have also heard reference to helicopter or bulldozer (or snowplow) parents (think thorough what these things might involve) as possible contributing factors. Those that suggest that parenting is a factor in this issue usually provide singular examples of specific things parents have done that fit these labels such as phoning their emerging adult children’s professors to complain about poor grades or to ask for preferential treatment for their children. But what are the dimensions of parenting that may be playing out differently in the lives of teenagers and emerging adults “these days” across the whole range of parent-emerging adult child interactions in ways that may be contributing to higher levels of anxiety? Parenting style has been studied by developmental psychologists for decades. Diana Baumrind, among others, suggested that parenting styles are captured by observing variation along three dimensions of parent behavior. One dimension is Warm versus Cold which capture the general extent to the parent’s connection to and engagement with their child is described as Warm (accepting) or Cold (distant, evaluative, negative emotionality). The other two dimensions have to do with control. Behavioral Control involves setting and communication clear limits on behavior which start out with things like no hitting or biting for toddlers and shift developmentally to take turns, respect others, and be responsible in later years. Psychological Control focusses upon parent’s expectations as to the extent to which it is appropriate for their children to think for themselves. This too shifts developmentally with the parents of preschools (hopefully) asking their children to consider “how the other person feels” rather than simply distracting their children when fights break out among playmates to later stepping back as their teenaged or emerging adult children begin to experiment with or work on their autonomy in areas such a life planning and self-management. You might be thinking that generational shifts in parental Behavioral Control is a likely predictive candidate for emerging adult anxiety, fear of failure, or perfectionism. Instead, think for a few moments about how issues of Psychological control may be involved in these issues of current concern. Once you have your hypotheses in order read through the linked article for a snapshot of how some researchers in this area have been examining thismatter.

Source: How parents’ psychological control may lead to young adult students’ fear of failure, Audrey-Ann Deneault and Alexandre Gareau, The Conversation.

Date: January 10, 2021

Photo Credit: Image by Jackie Ramirez from Pixabay

Article Link:

The researchers focus in upon fear of failure but rather than simply pointing to the commonly offered admission to “embrace failure” as a means of moving forward developmentally, they point out that the issue may be grounded in the developmentally more fundamental task of the taking up and acting with autonomy. Moving forward is more difficult when one is constantly looking over their shoulder for parental comment or input. A core feature of the Parenting Styles perspective involves the idea that parents must constantly adjust the expectations, controls, and engagements of and with their child as the child’s development unfolds. Parents need to move the goal posts if you like as their child develops if they are to continue to support rather than hinder that development. So, given this, here is a different question: Why are parents of emerging adult these days perhaps not moving their children’s’ developmental goal posts as they perhaps should? Might it be that parents are responding to changes they are observing in the world their children are developing into? That is a question for another post, but it suggests that an explanation for current levels of emerging adult anxiety and related issues should move past child or parent blaming and consider the world parents and developing children find themselves in “these days.”

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How might parent levels of Psychological Control in relation to their developing teens and emerging adults be related to current troublingly high levels of anxiety among emerging adults?
  2. What sorts of things might parents be encouraged to do differently in relation to your answer to the previous question?
  3. How might issues of parental Psychological Control be related to the way the world is “these days” and what might we (educators, students and parents) do about it?

References (Read Further):

Deneault, A. A., Gareau, A., Bureau, J. F., Gaudreau, P., & Lafontaine, M. F. (2020). Fear of failure mediates the relation between parental psychological control and academic outcomes: A latent mediated-moderation model of parents’ and children’s genders. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1-16. Abstract Link

Scharf, M., & Goldner, L. (2018). “If you really love me, you will do/be…”: Parental psychological control and its implications for children’s adjustment. Developmental Review, 49, 16-30. Abstract Link

Abaied, J. L., & Emond, C. (2013). Parent psychological control and responses to interpersonal stress in emerging adulthood: Moderating effects of behavioral inhibition and behavioral activation. Emerging Adulthood, 1(4), 258-270. Abstract Link

Williams, K. E., & Ciarrochi, J. (2020). Perceived parenting styles and values development: a longitudinal study of adolescents and emerging adults. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 30(2), 541-558. Link

McKinney, C., Morse, M., & Pastuszak, J. (2016). Effective and ineffective parenting: Associations with psychological adjustment in emerging adults. Journal of Family Issues, 37(9), 1203-1225. Link

Nelson, L. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Christensen, K. J., Evans, C. A., & Carroll, J. S. (2011). Parenting in emerging adulthood: An examination of parenting clusters and correlates. Journal of youth and adolescence, 40(6), 730-743. Link

Cui, M., Darling, C. A., Coccia, C., Fincham, F. D., & May, R. W. (2019). Indulgent parenting, helicopter parenting, and well-being of parents and emerging adults. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(3), 860-871. Link

Luebbe, A. M., Mancini, K. J., Kiel, E. J., Spangler, B. R., Semlak, J. L., & Fussner, L. M. (2018). Dimensionality of helicopter parenting and relations to emotional, decision-making, and academic functioning in emerging adults. Assessment, 25(7), 841-857. Link