Differentiating parental psychological control from autonomy granting and examining their relations with family dynamics

Jennifer K Hauser Kunz, Marquette University


Parental psychological control refers to intrusive strategies that infringe upon the psychological world of the child. Parents who demonstrate high levels of psychological control pressure their children to comply with their personal standards via manipulation of the parent-child bond, negative, affect-laden comments, and excessive personal control. Research investigating the impact of parental psychological control on child adjustment has indicated that it has harmful effects on children, and is related to disruption of the child's self-system (i.e., self-will, self-regulation, and interpersonal functioning). Less is known about why some parents engage in more psychologically controlling parenting strategies than others, or about the context in which a high degree of parental psychological control is likely to occur. Moreover, questions have been raised as to the nature of the distinction between parental psychological control and autonomy granting. Contributing to this confusion is the use of the terms interchangeably in the literature, the variety of other terms used to describe the same parenting phenomena (i.e., intrusiveness, overprotectiveness, restrictive parenting, etc.), and the conceptual overlap present in most methods used to measure psychological control. Consequently, the goals of the current project were to develop a more standardized definition of parental psychological control and autonomy granting, to examine variation in the use of psychological control and promotion of autonomy, and to study the complex interrelationships between psychological control, autonomy granting, and dynamics within the family environment. In this multi-method, multi-informant study, 92 preadolescents and their parents completed several measures assessing parenting and parent/child adjustment, and participated in family interaction tasks which were later coded for psychologically controlling parenting behaviors and parenting strategies which fostered child autonomy. Results supported the conceptualization of parental psychological control and autonomy granting as unique constructs, and supplementary analyses revealed gender differences and distinct child adjustment correlates. Interparental conflict emerged as a robust predictor of increased failure to promote autonomy across parents, but not of increased psychological control, and further exploration revealed that autonomy granting served as a mediator of the relationship between interparental conflict and child externalizing problems. Implications for future research are discussed.

Recommended Citation

Hauser Kunz, Jennifer K, "Differentiating parental psychological control from autonomy granting and examining their relations with family dynamics" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3326758.