Parents who use psychological tactics to get their teenagers to listen to them may be harming them in the long-run according to a new study by University of Virginia researchers. The study published in the journal Child Development squarely puts the onus on parental pressure as the reason why some teens have more problems in maintaining a healthy degree of independence when it came to their actions and closeness in romantic relationships.

Adolescence, the age between 13 and 19 years, is a time of confusion as well as discovery, bringing up several issues of independence and self-identity.  How well children deal with issues of peer-pressure and relationships are indicators of their mental strength. And parents play a huge role in shaping their psyche.

In this study, the researchers evaluated whether parents' greater use of psychological control in early adolescence can hinder teens' development of autonomy in relationships with peers. This psychological control involved invoking feelings of guilt, withdrawing love, fostering anxiety, or other psychologically manipulative tactics aimed at controlling youths' motivations and behaviors.

"These tactics might pressure teens to make decisions in line with their parents' needs and motivations rather than their own," explains study –lead Barbara A. Oudekerk, in a statement. "Without opportunities to practice self-directed, independent decision making, teens might give in to their friends' and partners' decisions."

It has been well established that teens who fail to develop the capacity to establish autonomy and closeness may turn to hostile means to establish their authority or may suffer from intimacy issues in their relationships in later life.

Their study of 184 ethnically and socioeconomically diverse teens found that psychological pressure put by parents on these teens at the age of 13 affected their ability to be independent and close in relationships even eight years later when they were young adults.

Some of the teens reported the kind of psychological pressure their parents used. For example some parents would say things such as "If you really cared for me, you wouldn't do things to worry me.” While others would shut off from their teenage children if they didn’t see eye to eye.

The study also assessed teens' autonomy (their ability to reason, be their own people, and express confidence) and relatedness (their ability to show warmth and connection) in friendships when the adolescents were 13, 18, and 21, and in romantic relationships at ages 18 and 21. 

The more the parent used such tactics the more they hampered the teens’ ability to establish autonomy and closeness in friendships and romantic relationships, said the authors. Also, how teens handled autonomy and their relationships at age 18 was an indicator to how they would behave with such issues at age 21.

"Parents often fear the harmful consequences of peer pressure in adolescence," says Oudekerk. "Our study suggests that parents can promote or undermine teens' ability to assert their own views and needs to close friends and romantic partners. In addition, teens who learn—or fail to learn—how to express independence and closeness with friends and partners during adolescence carry these skills forward into adult relationships."

The study, as many others do, highlights the importance for a solid relationship between teens’ and parents. It also explains how healthy relations between teens’ and their peers help foster high levels of self-esteem, independence, and good relationships that will trickle down into adult life.

Source: Oudekerk B, Allen P, Hessel E, and Molloy E, The Cascading Development of Autonomy and Relatedness From Adolescence to Adulthood, Child Development, 2014.