Why Parental Favoritism can hurt many children.
Parenting cannot be summed up into a long list of do’s and don’ts, because although there are some things that a parent should never force their child to endure, there is no specific “correct way” to parent. Most parents form their own parenting style based on how they grew up or how they were treated in their childhood. However, these parenting techniques can lead to favoritism, conscious and unconscious, between children, which can be extremely harmful to not only the unfavored child, but to the one that is favored as well.
While favoritism is most of the time considered a good thing in today’s culture, it actually has lasting damaging effects (1) on both the favored and unfavored child. According to Mallory Williams, a licensed professional counselor, “The biggest long-term dangers are depression, anxiety, unstable or even traumatic reactions in personal relationships, and performance anxiety for both the favored and non-favored children.”
Research has shown that children who are able to perceive themselves as the least favorite are more likely to engage in drug, alcohol and cigarette use in their teens (2). Parental favoritism is when one or both parents display a consistent form of favoritism toward one child over another, which can include spending more quality time with them, giving them less discipline, and/ or more privileges (3). It is understandable why a lot of parents will disagree with or disregard this article, because they do not believe it applies to them or their family. However, parents should keep in mind that they are only able to speak for what happens in their own families, and even then, there will be a third perspective that may contradict their beliefs.
Most people who are parents do not understand that when parental pressures begin from an early age the child will be unable to fully develop their own personality traits, which can result in an identity crisis as the child grows up. After experiencing this identity crisis, it is more probable that that child will go through a rebellion stage in the extreme form in search of their own voice or identity. Once reaching middle school or high school, when personal opinions become more prominent, it will become difficult for the child to decipher the difference between what their parents want for them and what they want for themselves. It is normal for most parents to believe that they do not have or show favoritism towards any of their children.
It is not surprising that most parents are unaware that their behaviors project that they have a favored or preferred child. After all, it is common for mothers and fathers to prefer one child over another for a mixture of both conscious and unconscious reasons. One of the main reasons that parents have a favorite child is simply because they relate more to one child over the other, which subconsciously makes the parent want to give that child more attention than normal (4). If a parent believes that as a child, they fell short in a certain area, it is more than likely that they will set impossibly high standards for themselves and/ or their children, as well as suffer from self-torment. This state of perfectionism “sabotages the unconditional love” children need, because they can sense it when a parent or adult does not fully accept them. This state of perfectionism can also come when a person is bullied or socially ostracized at some point in their life.
The pressures of parental expectations can cause a child’s psychological state to take a dangerous turn, where the ID, ego, and superego are battling with each other in a sort of limbo, which is harmful especially to a young mind (5). Adolescents are usually more sensitive or vulnerable when it comes to parental favoritism than younger or much older children are, because they are trying to gain an understanding of themselves in their transition from a childlike state to being a young adult.
In the process of an adolescent breaking away from their parents or trying to gain more independence, it is likely that the adolescent will distance themselves from their parents while still somewhat craving the approval that was given in childhood. This is the expression of their ID, which deals with immediate pleasure and the “I want to do that now” mentality. Their superego deals with the more moral sense of internalized rules of parents and society, which children will push to the forefront before reaching the age of adolescence. The ego is the self, which deals with the principles of reality and compromise between the ID and superego, which most people will come to terms with as young adults. However, in cases of parental favoritism, the favored child may start to suppress both their ID and ego in order to ensure that their parents will be satisfied. This much oppression of the self or ego can lead to depression and many other mental health disorders.
Parents naturally want their children to live the life they never had. In the form of favoritism, parents may often mold their children’s lives in a way that ensures they will only have good experiences, which hinders their child’s personal growth in the long run. Life is not only shaped by the good experiences but the bad ones as well, because that’s how humans learn. Without the bad experiences to also help the mental growth process, some favored children are never able to be shaped into their own person, which can create an internal debate and lead to depression.
Parental Favoritism, whether conscious or unconscious, is very damaging to the children on both sides of the issue, and parents need to put in the effort to make sure that it does not happen to their children.
(1). “When Favoritism Becomes Abuse.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-favorite-child/201104/when-favoritism-becomes-abuse.
(2). Campbell, Leah. “What Happens When Parents Play Favorites?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 12 Apr. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-happens-to-kids-when-parents-play-favorites.
(3). Vining, Season. “Long Term Effects of Parental Favoritism.” Baton Rouge Parents Magazine, 2 Mar. 2018, https://www.brparents.com/article/long-term-effects-of-parental-favoritism.html#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20biggest%20long%2Dterm%20dangers,following%20the%20child%20into%20adulthood.
(4). “Does Your Own Childhood Affect Your Parenting?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parents-happy-kids/201808/does-your-own-childhood-affect-your-parenting.
(5). Torey C. Richards, LMHC. “Parental Favoritism Creates Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Adolescents.” Licensed Mental Health Counselor, 30 Aug. 2012, https://licensedmentalhealthcounselor.org/2012/08/30/parental-favoritism-creates-stress-anxiety-and-depression-in-adolescents/.
Campbell, Leah. “What Happens When Parents Play Favorites?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 12 Apr. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-happens-to-kids-when-parents-play-favorites.
“Does Your Own Childhood Affect Your Parenting?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parents-happy-kids/201808/does-your-own-childhood-affect-your-parenting.
Torey C. Richards, LMHC. “Parental Favoritism Creates Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Adolescents.” Licensed Mental Health Counselor, 30 Aug. 2012, https://licensedmentalhealthcounselor.org/2012/08/30/parental-favoritism-creates-stress-anxiety-and-depression-in-adolescents/.
Vining, Season. “Long Term Effects of Parental Favoritism.” Baton Rouge Parents Magazine, 2 Mar. 2018, https://www.brparents.com/article/long-term-effects-of-parental-favoritism.html#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20biggest%20long%2Dterm%20dangers,following%20the%20child%20into%20adulthood.
“When Favoritism Becomes Abuse.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-favorite-child/201104/when-favoritism-becomes-abuse.