Yelling at Kids Could Be as Harmful as Hitting Them, Study Finds

A new study led by the University of Pittsburgh says that harsh verbal discipline is similar to that of physical discipline, putting the adage of ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ in question.

While physical punishment is out of the question for most parents of adolescents, many do yell at their teens. This verbal discipline, which is defined as shouting, cursing or using insults, may be just as harmful to the long-term well-being of adolescents.

These findings were published in the journal Child Development last week, led by Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education.

According to a press release from the university, while most parents engage in some sort of verbal discipline toward their teenagers, there isn’t much research about the long-term effects this can have.
Rather than trying to get teens to behave by screaming or swearing at them, the verbal discipline only aggravates the bad behavior. In addition, teens who were harshly disciplined were more likely to be depressed and have behavioral problems such as vandalism and aggression or were antisocial.

Researchers were surprised to find that in a two year period, the negative effects of harsh verbal discipline were similar to negative effects of physical discipline in other studies.

“From that we can infer that these results will last the same way that the effects of physical discipline do because the immediate-to-two-year effects of verbal discipline were about the same as for physical discipline,” Wang said.

Parents who harshly yelled at their teens, but also demonstrated parental warmth such as emotional support and affection, did not lesson the effects of the verbal discipline. Therefore yelling at the child “out of love,” or “for their own good,” didn’t mitigate the damage inflicted, Wang said.

“Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad,” he said.

Researchers worked with 967 adolescents and their parents from 10 middle schools over two years. Most of the teens were from middle class families.

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Liz Hayes
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