Yelling is as Harmful as Hitting

It’s no secret that raising children or teaching a classroom full of them, are amongst the most challenging activities an adult can undertake. Equally true, these are among the most important and rewarding endeavors. And in the process, (we know because we’ve been there too) most parents and some teachers lose their cool and yell at their charges either in anger or frustration. In a 2003 study by the Journal of Marriage and Family, over 80% of the almost 1000 families interviewed report yelling or screaming at their children during the previous year. So, based on the numbers, this is normal. A recent study this past week looks at the results of chronic yelling and highlights our concern.

Although physical abuse certainly still happens in our society (and is considered a crime in most jurisdictions), spanking and other forms of corporal punishment are largely frowned upon (and we hope are on the decline). The same thing cannot always be said about yelling at teenagers and calling them names like “lazy” or “stupid” when they make a mistake or do something wrong. Many parents will yell at their kids and say things that sound mean or even abusive, but since they aren’t physically hurting them, this kind of behavior doesn’t carry the same social stigma. Yet, we wanted you to know that a new study published Wednesday by the journal, Child Development, suggests that yelling at and insulting teenagers may be just as harmful as physical abuse.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan and followed 976 families who had two parents with children between the ages of 13 and 14 years old. The children were asked a number of questions about any behavioral problems and depression symptoms they might have as well as questions about their relationships with their parents. It was discovered that about 45 percent of the participating mothers and 42 percent of the participating fathers had harshly disciplined their children verbally within the last year. The children who were subjected to harsher verbal discipline experienced more behavioral problems such as fighting with their peers, lying to their parents and having trouble in school. They also exhibited symptoms of depression. The increase in these problems was similar to those experienced by children who suffered physical abuse.

So, why is it that harsh verbal discipline is often so difficult on teenagers? Researchers believe that it has to do with the relationships the children have with their parents. People feel a lot more responsible for their behavior when they are admonished by those they look up to, and there is nobody that a child or teenager looks up to more than a parent. While your teen’s behavior may make you doubt this, it is nevertheless true. When a child is told that he or she did something wrong by a parent, they are far more likely to listen and take what is said to them seriously, especially if it comes in the form of constructive criticism. Meanwhile, parents who yell at their children end up putting a strain on the loving relationship that they are supposed to have with them. This can undermine the parents’ authority, which means that the children are less likely to treat them with respect. This, in turn causes parents to continue using harsh verbal discipline in an attempt to get their children to listen to them and behave. Sadly, it only makes the problem worse and ends up creating a cycle of abuse and behavioral problems. Yelling then, as a primary discipline tool, may result in trauma to the recipient, strained relationships among all, and is also largely ineffective for problem solving.

This of course doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t discipline their children. Discipline is and has always been an important part of being a parent, teacher or caregiver. Discipline should be delivered in such a way that doesn’t involve harsh or demeaning language. Children and teenagers need rules and discipline, but it should never undermine the caring relationship that parents need to have with their children. [1]

[1]  Inspired by the September 5, 2013 Wall Street Journal article by Andrea Petersen, “Study Says Yelling Is As Hurtful as Hitting”.

At Stanfield, We Think You Should Know:

There are things you can do to prevent yourself from becoming an out-of control, yelling adult. Adults of any age can learn positive ways to deal with angry feelings before they get the best of them. Our BeCool Curriculum teaches one strategy which has been shown to be very effective; others exist. Ours is a step-wise program that teaches a kind of mindful-awareness that alerts the individual to his choices beyond blowing-up. Learning to recognize anger at its early stages can help an individual identify when angry feelings might actually be a screen for fear, frustration or fatigue. Listening to the other person, staying in the present moment and staying connected with your respect and basic regard for others can help provide a soothing anchor when you are about to lose your cool. Out of control anger hurts both the individual receiving it and the one experiencing it.

Copyright 2013 James Stanfield Company. All Rights Reserved.

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