Do you think you might be susceptible to psychological issues due to over-controlling parents? Learn more about what your genetic makeup says about how you process negative experiences.
Did you know that a genetic component might be involved in how children respond to helicopter parenting?
Having overly controlling parents or guardians throughout our formative years won’t necessarily cause lingering emotional damage. Some people don’t experience negative after-effects at all.
Nevertheless, some helicopter parenting studies have found that the children of helicopter parents might be more prone to anxiety disorders or engaging in behaviors like binge drinking in later adolescence. One study found that over-controlling parenting was associated with poor emotional regulation and impulse control in preadolescence.
So, what accounts for these disparities? Our genetic makeup might be a significant factor.
Helicopter Parenting is typically defined as parental micro-management of their children's behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
Some of us have very strict parents who try to decide everything we do. They choose our clothes, extracurricular activities, friends, hobbies, and even careers. The coining of the phrase helicopter parent (those who are involved in virtually all aspects of their children's lives and fight all their battles within and out of the classroom) has shed light on this global societal phenomenon.
Having over-controlling parents and being raised in a stressful, high-pressure environment can have long-lasting consequences for children, especially concerning mental health. One important consequence is childhood and adolescent anxiety, a complex mental health condition involving environmental triggers and genetics.
Our genetic makeup is a complex tapestry of information. Certain genetic variants might affect how we process negative life experiences, making us more susceptible to mental health issues later in life.
Notably, having a specific variant (the G-allele) of the OPRM1 gene has been linked to anxiety, fear, and other signs of innate sensitivity to stressors. In other words, those who have this particular allele, regardless of who their parents are, are more at risk of becoming anxious when presented with a trigger.
In a 2017 study, a team of researchers looked at the gene/environment interaction between having a specific gene variant and over-controlling parents on the risk of developing anxiety disorder as a child. The study, which consisted of a racially and socioeconomically diverse population, involved requesting children to complete a challenging task in the presence of their mothers (who were requested not to help unless they determined that their children truly needed it).
Neither parental overcontrol nor the child's OPRM1 allele alone led to any significant change in brain activity. Yet, if the child is already genetically high-risk (having the minor G-allele of the OPRM1 gene), having a micromanaging mother is significantly associated with greater reactivity in the brain.
The study mentioned above appeared to discover a correlation between having a particular gene variant and experiencing higher neurological reactivity, potentially leading to mental health disorders. However, correlation is not necessarily causation.
We also have to be mindful that the study only included 85 people (a relatively small sample size). Moreover, we should understand that anxiety disorders develop due to many interacting factors beyond those that were examined. We should also note that the parent population in the study only consisted of mothers, not fathers.
It is also important to note that parental micro-management approaches can be wildly different. Some helicopter parents might simply employ a continual, almost smothering presence; they monitor homework sessions, routinely contact teachers for status updates, or even physically attend their children’s classes and activities. Others might use more manipulative or even abusive measures. The study did not account for such distinctions.
Despite these limitations, the study adds preliminary evidence about how parental overcontrol interacts with genetics to modify health risks.
So, how susceptible are you to succumbing to the negative effects of your overcontrolling parents?
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