‘Parent Conditioning: What Is It We Don’t Realize’

Have you all heard about a popular experiment on a dog and its salivation? Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist was the first one to discover that desired behavior can be achieved with a certain amount of training and conditioning. On the first day of the experiment, he rang a bell before giving food to a dog. The dog immediately salivated looking at the food. After a series of repetitions like this, the dog started salivating as soon as he rang the bell even after bringing no food. That was because the dog associated the bell with the food i.e., it thought every time the scientist rang the bell, he is going to bring its food. This famous experiment is called ‘Classical Conditioning’. Later B.F.Skinner experimented on rats, came up with ‘Operant Conditioning’, and proved learning can be achieved through reinforcements and punishments. Now, you might be wondering why am I talking about learning? So, here it is.

We all know our parents love us. Many kids see their parents as role models. We call it unconditional love but let us stop for a second and question ourselves is it truly unconditional? Is it true that our parents don’t expect anything in return? I think not. As mentioned in the previous article on parenting, parents work hard for kid’s bright future but they also expect kids to follow their path and reach their expectations. So, what happens if a kid likes to choose something outside his/her parent’s expectations? Will parents accept his decision? Many don’t. They like to get back their control. They convince the kid and force him to make decisions against his will and that’s where the conditioning by parents becomes toxic. Toxic conditioning has a greater impact on the kid than we can all imagine. So, how does it work?

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Toxic Conditioning and How it Works:

Have you ever heard phrases like this from parents?

‘I left the village, moved to the city and sacrificed my entire life for your future and this is how you repay me’? or

‘What is left for me to live when my kid turned against me’ or

‘You are worthless, selfish, and don’t understand the pain you cause us’ or

You are my blood and I have complete right to make decisions for you’

etc. etc.

As said earlier many parents like to get back their control and they use ‘Emotional Blackmailing’ as a tool to achieve it. The saddest part to this is many kids empathize with their parents. They leave their interests and agree to what their parents say. I know a friend who decided to get himself adjusted to the pain rather than taking a stand because he thinks that will hurt his parents. He said ‘if doing this makes my parents happy, I am fine if I have to suffer for life’, and sadly, he is still suffering. Other is conditioned by her parents that she is nothing without them. Despite the evidence, she still believes that she cannot live without her parents and is scared to move away from them.

Emotionally manipulating kids to sacrifice their desires and interests to satisfy the parent is very disturbing. Our society makes this easy for parents. How? our parent’s love is very glorified in our society and is considered as a greater sacrifice. No love matches a parent’s love. Everything parents do is in the best interest of their kids no matter how toxic it is. A kid who takes a stand against the toxicity is judged for using their parents. When an adult admits their parent in an old age home many of us immediately judge his intentions but how many of us think about what made him take that decision? Did he suffer because of his parents? Were his parents toxic? No, because our society never talks about how much kids love their parents, sacrifice for them, and suffer because of them.

In a social media post I watched last week, when asked what is the most hurtful comment you heard? Many answered that it was from their parents. They were comments like ‘You are worthless’, ‘Why you are alive just kill yourself’. It is no new thing to know that most of our insecurities develop from childhood. Parents questioning kid’s capabilities, comparing with others, insulting or being unsupportive in front of relatives and many more like this cause severe damage to mental health. There is no greater pain to a kid than parents choosing to criticize his/her flaws rather supporting and helping them. Moreover, most times they weren’t any flaws. It’s just parents getting disappointed with the kid as he/she could not reach their expectations.

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What is it We Have to Realize?

Parents are humans. They are not always right. They do mistakes. They might not intend to be toxic. Sometimes it’s just they are and it is completely okay to take a stand against parents. Toxicity only spreads from generation to generation until one realizes and breaks the pattern. Toxic parents are also a product of toxic parenting. They were wounded and continued to wound their kids as they did not realize to break the pattern and we as a society should support and help the kids who are trying hard to break it. So, if you find your parents toxic and continue to not break the pattern, remember your kids might become a victim to your toxicity.

‘Remember to live and let live’


Sravani Mangalampalli

‘Our First Relationship’

The first thing we see when we open our eyes after we were born was our parents. Their first touch makes us stop crying. We instantly know we can trust them and from the day on, our parents work every day to make us smile, laugh, and give us a bright future. As kids, our parents are our world and we are theirs. They teach us every little thing by holding our hands. ‘learning alphabets’, ‘our first bicycle ride’, ‘our birthday parties’ all make us feel very special that we know we are their little prince/princess. I still remember one evening I casually asked my father to buy me an ice cream, the next minute I know was that he filled our freezer with ice creams. It was like he bought me an ice cream parlor and I instantly knew I am special and I am his little princess. As we slowly grow up, we go to school and then to college and university. We start observing the world around us. We watch our friends, their parents, and families. All of a sudden, we realize that our family isn’t perfect and our little world has its problems. The thoughts that our parents are perfect might slowly get shattered and we start seeing the other side of our family that we never thought of as kids. While some kids continue to respect and follow their parents, few kids feel resentment towards them especially during adolescence or in young adulthood. It’s always questionable that ‘why do kids resent their parents?’ is it kids’ fault? Parent’s fault? Or both?

Why do kids resent their parents?

There is one super hit movie about the father-son relationship in my native language. The father loves his son so much, provides everything the son could ever imagine, and also plans to offer his son the company he raised for the son’s future. Despite everything, the son feels he is locked up in a prison and resents his father till the end of the movie. Why? Because every time the father buys something for his son, a shirt or a bike he only thinks about how good it looks and how much he liked it instead of how much his son liked and wanted it. There is this one scene where the father and son both go shopping, the son picks up fancy shirts that make him feel young but the father picks up formal shirts and convinces his son to try them out. Before the son explains that he didn’t like it, the father happily buys them for his son. Although it looks very simple and petty, little things like this have a greater impact on the kid than we think we do. Fortunately, the movie has a happy ending where the father ends up understanding everything he did and apologizes to his son but how many of the kids in real life end up having a happy ending with their parents?

Such kind of parenting can precisely be seen in Indian culture. Indian parents get to choose what kind of toys their children should play with, what color they need to wear, what subjects to take to university, to when and who to get married to. An interesting article in Times of India elaborated the results of an HSBC Study on the hopes and expectations of the parents on their children’s education in which almost a dozen countries have participated. According to the study, when parents asked to rank the three important goals that they want their children to achieve, 51% of Indian parents choose successful careers, 49% choose happiness in life, 33% choose a healthy lifestyle, 22% wanted their children to earn enough for a comfortable life and only 17% choose for their children to reach their highest potential. In the contrast, more than a dozen countries ranging from Indonesia (56%), Hong Kong (58%), UAE (60%), UK (77%), Canada (78%), and France (86%) choose happiness in life as their ultimate goal while successful careers were only 17% in UK and Australia. The survey also showed 91% of the Indian parents wanted their children to have at least an under graduation and more than 88% of parents wanted masters and even higher degree and when inquired about the subjects most of the Indian parents choose engineering (23%), followed by business management and finance (22%), computer and information sciences (16%), medicine (14%) and law (2%).  While it’s great to know that Indian parents want their kids to have successful careers, this does pose an interesting question about how many parents will consider their kids’ opinion if they wish to have a life opposite to their parents’ expectations?

This brings me back to the day when I had to choose my subjects in my college. I was interested in taking up Biology but my father insisted on taking Mathematics and Physics so I can pursue Engineering. Fortunately, I ended up taking the subject I like but I do know many kids who are forced to take up careers that their parents wish to. When I talked to my mother and too many parents about this, everyone had a common answer “We do it for our kids and their happiness. These decisions will make them happy and secure in the future”. Now, it’s understandable but questionable. “Will the happiness of both parents and kids confined to the same decisions? Will things that made parents happy also make their kids happy? Will the kids have the same ideologies and goals in life as their parents?” and the answer is NO! A BIG NO!! Kids are different from their parents, their tastes, likes, interests including color, fashion to career are different. No kid turns out to be an exact copy of their parents. Many factors including environment, peers, schooling, etc. influences their choices in life and it’s okay for them to choose the opposite of their parents’ expectations. It’s their life and they have complete right to do so. One of the reasons that make a person happy and satisfied in life is when they do not live with regrets and that can only be achieved when they are given the “freedom of choice”. Turning back at their life, a person should not feel that their life would have been different if they had taken up decisions on their own. After all, it’s not a crime to choose on their own, and doing so they become more independent, confident, and ultimately satisfied and contented in life. They learn their mistakes by experience and in the end, every kid only expects their parents to understand and be their backbone irrespective of what they choose.

So, the next time your kid chooses something opposite to your expectation, remember that “They are not wrong, they are just different”.


Sravani Mangalampalli