Strict parenting makes life difficult for kids.
It’s also not necessarily effective. One study showed that kids with strict parents were more likely to engage in “risky behaviors” in adolescence; they were also more likely to drop out of high school or college. Of course, some strict parenting comes from a good place—especially when parents provide a stable home life, but that doesn’t make it any easier on the children.
If you were raised in a strict home, you know that your childhood wasn’t normal. You also know that…
1. You were often the last person to arrive at the party…and the first person to leave.
Your parents set seemingly arbitrary curfews, and they took forever to decide whether to allow you to go to parties and other events. If you were allowed to go, you usually had to study, complete chores, build a shed, or do some other Herculean task before you left. That meant joining your friends around 8:30 and leaving at 8:31 to make your 9:00 curfew.
2. You became really good at fibbing.
In order to do anything fun, you need to learn how to mislead your parents. It’s not something you were ever proud of, but you just knew that if you said you wanted to go to the movies, you’d end up sitting at home instead. That’s why you always said you were going over to your friends’ house to study, and that’s why you and your friends lied about sleepovers to go out of town. In fact, you got pretty good at lying.
Don’t take our word for it. Researchers in West Africa were able to show that children learn to lie more effectively when they’re forced to follow strict rules. In the 2016 study, psychotherapists took children from two schools—one with fairly relaxed rules and one with strict rules—and put them in a room with several objects. Researchers played a noise from one of the objects, and children were tasked with identifying the object that made the noise by sound alone. But the researchers weren’t in the room, so the kids could cheat on the test easily.
Although the number of children who peeked was about the same for each school, the researchers found that the kids from the strict school were much more effective liars. Those kids also lied more readily, perhaps indicating that they were well practiced.
3. You got the impression that school was the most important thing ever.
Your parents didn’t ask about your friends unless they were saying something like, “I don’t like you hanging around that Tim kid.”
They didn’t care about your romantic endeavors—or lack thereof—and they certainly didn’t want to hear about them. If they gave you “the talk,” it was couched with enough euphemisms that you ended up more confused about sex than ever.
But they did care about school, so that’s what you talked about. They wanted to know about every quiz, every group project, and every presentation. They made you keep a detailed planner, but honestly, you didn’t need it, because your parents would remind you about every assignment at regular intervals.
What really blew your mind was that your friends didn’t go through the same process. You’d watch in disbelief as that Tim kid told a teacher that he didn’t have his homework because he didn’t do it, and you’d try to consider how that was even possible. You were jealous, but you were also horrified.
4. You dreaded asking for permission for anything.
It was a necessary step, but you certainly didn’t look forward to it.
You quickly learned to present all of the details at once in hopes of blitzing your parents with information. “Can I go to Julie’s house?” would get denied. “Can I go to Julie’s house to study for science class for half an hour on Wednesday evening from 7:34-8:34?” might just stand a chance of sneaking through the Parental Permission Filter.
That’s why you became frustrated when your friends suddenly changed plans. To them, it was no big deal. To you, it meant getting permission all over again, because your parents would check up on you. If you weren’t doing what you said you’d be doing, you’d be grounded until the end of time.
Maybe this is why kids with authoritarian parents are more likely to rebel; they simply get tired of trying to find new ways to ask for permission.
5. You relished the opportunity to eat bad food.
If your parents didn’t let you have soda, for instance, you’d take every opportunity to enjoy a cola when you visited a friend’s house. You might have felt guilty afterward—but hey, guilt is part of a junk food binge, right?
Some research shows that strict parenting can actually compel kids to eat more junk. One report with the wonderful title “Parenting Style and Adolescent Fruit Consumption” notes that “an impressive series of studies has shown that parental control efforts may increase children’s preference for restricted foods as well as their intake of such foods, while diminishing self-control in eating.”
The report goes on to note that in extremely permissive households, researchers observed the same effect, so the most effective parenting style for encouraging healthy eating seems to be somewhere in the middle. In any case, if you’ve wondered why your eating habits have suffered as an adult, strict parenting might be to blame.
6. They controlled your appearance, too.
As you became a teenager, you might have thought briefly of expressing yourself with dyed hair or a style shake-up. Then you remembered that you basically lived in North Korea, and any changes would require explicit permission from your parents. Yeah, that wasn’t happening.
You always knew what your parents thought of your clothes, because they’d tell you. Every hair had to be in place for school, and if you tried to wear a short skirt (meaning an inch above the ankles) or a funny t-shirt, you knew that you’d hear about it.
That’s why your first major act of rebellion might have been to switch clothes when you got to school, or get a piercing, or do something else that you knew your parents wouldn’t like.
Still, even today, you probably have trouble getting dressed without hearing your parents’ voices in the back of your head. (That’s never going to change, by the way.)
7. You got up to get a drink of water if something sexy happened on television.
“Sexy,” in this context, is defined as “two characters look like they might kiss, maybe, someday, possibly.”
Strict parents don’t ever talk about romantic stuff, so you’re left to figure that out on your own. You also realize early in life that your parents’ conservative values don’t jibe with most television shows and movies. Even Seventh Heaven could get a little too risque for them.
To avoid any awkwardness, you became a master of finding excuses to leave the room. You’d go to the bathroom, get a drink, mow the lawn—anything to get out of there. And if there was a sex scene, well…you’re just not watching that show anymore.
This would also apply to video games, by the way, but you weren’t allowed to play video games. Well, maybe you were allowed “after you finish studying,” but you were never finished studying. If you did have video games, they were lame educational games that came with your computer, probably starring a talking frog in a lab coat (but you loved them anyway).
8. You eventually became just like them.
“No,” you’re saying, “That’s not true. That’s impossible.”
You just quoted The Empire Strikes Back, by the way (even though you weren’t allowed to see it). But sadly, it’s true, if you believe the science.
Studies have shown that conservative parents raise conservative kids, and it’s not genetics; kids develop conservative values as they age. This makes some kind of terrible sense if you think about it.
As a kid, you were taught that authority was everything, so even when you rebelled, those values were in the back of your mind. Provided that your parents gave you a stable household, you probably stayed in school, got a decent job, and turned out pretty well, all things considered (even if you do succumb to the occasional junk food binge).
If and when you have kids, you’ll find yourself imparting many of the same values. But you might make a few changes. You won’t require your kid to get permission before going out to get the mail, for instance, and you’ll allow the occasional soda. Just not in the evening. And not with caffeine. And sugar free. Oh, and only clear sodas, no cola. And only on weekends.
Yep, you’re nothing like your parents.