Background Personal mastery is the subjective feeling of control over the events in one’s own life. It is associated with healthy ageing, including better cardio-metabolic health, immune function and physical functioning. As an adult mastery is strongly associated with achievements of education, income and social class. However, within-group differences indicate that there could be other ways to feel in control. Mastery is theorised to be a self-concept first learnt in adolescence, and as such family may play a role in shaping it. Those whose parents support them psychologically and allow them appropriate freedom as an adolescent may grow up perceiving themselves to be in control, over and above tangible socio-economic resources.
Data The Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) is a representative sample of births in mainland Britain that occurred during a week in March 1946. Participants were (n=1,037) study members who had provided data at ages 4, 26, 43 and 68. Controlling parenting was measured using the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI). This measures percieved parental levels of psychological control (e.g. invasiveness, overprotection).
The outcome was personal mastery assessed at age 68 using Pearlin’s 7 item scale. An example item is, “ I have little control over the things that happen to me.” Multivariable regression analysis was used to test the association between psychologically controlling parenting and personal mastery age 68, controlling for childhood and adult socio-economic markers.
Results Higher perceived parental psychological control was associated with lower mean mastery −0.12 (95% 0.20,–0.04) aged 68. This association was not attenuated when adjusting for childhood and adult socio-economic position.
Conclusion These findings show the lifelong importance of parenting on psychological self-concepts. Restricting young-life psychological freedom may build an enduring feeling that one is not agent of one’s own control. Despite having access to a comfortable socio-economic position, those whose parents were more controlling in adolescence felt less in control of their own life age 68.
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