I would like to start off by saying that I am not a parent. Never have been and I am not aspiring to be one in the near future. However, I am very blessed to be friends and know close people in my life who happen to be parents. Some profound insights come from some of these parents as I speak to them.
What I would like to address in this blog article is parental differential treatment or rather PDT. Let me give examples. Let’s say little mary’s mother is a Christian. Little Mary decided after facing some unfair circumstances in life does not want to have anything to do with the church. In fact, Mary has now chosen to become an atheist. Mary’s mother now being disappointed, now the mother starts treating Mary differently. The mother takes away her love and affection for Mary because Mary let her down by not going to church. Then Mary’s mother starts pouring all her attention and affection on Mary’s sister Anna who still goes to church. Even buys Anna new clothes after they come from church. Anna is getting treated much differently from Mary who is now an atheist.
Let me use an example that myself and many other people can relate with. If you happen to mostly be an indian or An African child, to some extent white children as well, and your parents want you to study medicine, pharmacy, law, engineering, architecture etc. You find that some children actually don’t want to study what their parents were pushing them to study, instead, the decide to go and study something else, for example, a Bachelor of Arts in English Lit. The parents not being too pleased decide to push their other children to study what they want them to study “The Courses”. Since this child, namely child “A” refused to study what the parents wanted, and child “B” is studying what the parents expected and wanted of child A, the parents start doting on child B. The parents buy child B a car since child B is studying to become the engineer in the family. The parents even take child “B” to the highest and best university in the world to study engineering. The parents don’t want child B to be stressed out when going to buy some groceries to study. They want to ensure the “engineer in the family” to have an easier life. Meanwhile child A since he or she studied BA no one praises them or even acknowledges the fact that he or she did well or obtained a degree.
How about if you are a child who keeps failing at school, while your sibling gets A, or what is you are busy playing flutes in your free time instead of working at your parent’s shop when you are free? Notice your sibling who does the “right” things get awarded with love, affection, and gifts while you who is supposedly not winning in life gets ignored or does not receive parental affection as if your life achievements are nothing.
Have you or any person you know in life who has gone through this? This kind of reaction from parents if you happen to be in child “B” shoes is called differential treatment. A lot of parents ave no idea how dangerous this kind of action is. Many I am sure are very unaware that they are practicing differential treatment at home.
Some of the long-term consequences of parental differential treatment on children are:
Broken relationships with people outside the house,
long term mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self esteem even as they grow up to be adults,
It can also cause children to feel unworthy, unwanted, unloved and unattractive.
It also causes children to feel incompetent
This impacts on the relationships that siblings have with each other as well. Some studies came out showing that siblings who compare themselves more to siblings have a higher chance of developing sibling rivalry. This can also cause siblings to have more negativity and jealousy between siblings.
Parental differential treatment can also increase delinquent behaviour in children.
It was also found that parents who tend to be more controlling tend to engage in PDT than parents who treated their children with care and warmth. Parents who are controlling end up creating an atmosphere that leads to conflict, rivalry and protective behaviours between siblings. Parental behaviour that is also harsh, controlling and lacks care or affection makes children to become emotionally distant.
In addition, parental behavior that is harsh, controlling and exhibits a lack of concern or affection, has been found to be associated with emotionally distant and conflicted sibling relationships.
PDT is very damaging to children long term. Sometimes parents or an older adult figure does it unconsciously and do not realize its effects. Sometimes you will find that some parents themselves went through PDT themselves.
How did I become aware of this? A parent I know of was telling the other parent of how they treated their child differently because they did not do what they required. It is a very toxic behaviour. I became interested in this because of personal experience. PDT continues to affect a child even into adulthood.