When your teenage child refuses to do the chores or breaks the curfew, your first instinct as a parent may be to scream and, in some cases, swear. But could such instinctual behavior cause lasting damage in your children? According to a new study, yes.
In a nationally representative survey, 90 percent of American parents reported one or more instances of using harsh verbal discipline with children of all ages. Fifty percent reported using more severe forms of this type of discipline, such as swearing. Teen angst can be difficult to deal with but screaming or swearing at your child is proven to be ineffective. Parents who use harsh verbal discipline with teens are found to actually aggravate problematic behavior and increase symptoms of depression in their children, according to the study's findings.
Results published in the journal Child Development show that parents' hostility toward their teens increases their chilren's risk of delinquency and risky behavior. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan assessed 967 two-parent families (mostly middle-class) and their children — approximately half were European American, 40 percent were African American, and the rest were from different ethnic backgrounds. The students and their parents completed surveys over a two-year period on topics related to mental health, quality of the parent-child relationship, and more.
To accurately evaluate conduct problems in teens, the researchers observed the participants’ behavior at ages 13 and 14. From a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (10 or more times), students were asked questions such as "In the past year, how often have you: a) been disobedient in school, b) lied to your parents, c) stolen from a store, d) been involved in a gang fight, and e) damaged public or private property for fun?"
Parents’ level of verbal discipline was measured on a scale from 1 (never) to 5 (always). The parents of the students were asked questions such as "In the past year, after your child has disobeyed you or done something wrong, how often have you: a) shouted, yelled, or screamed at the child, b) swore or cursed at the child, and c) called the child dumb or lazy or some other name like that?"
The surveys revealed that when harsh verbal discipline is used during early adolescence, teens are more likely to suffer detrimental health outcomes later in life. Teens who were screamed or cursed at by 13 years old were found to suffer more depressive symptoms between ages 13 and 14 than students who were not disciplined this way. These participants were also more likely to display bad behavior in school, lie to their parents, steal, and fight.
“This is one of the first studies to indicate that parents' harsh verbal discipline is damaging to the developing adolescent," said Ming-Te Wang, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology in education at the University of Pittsburgh. "This may explain why so many parents say that no matter how loud they shout, their teenagers don't listen,” she said, reports USA Today.
According to Kidshealth.org, one in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, the number may be as high as one in eight.
To prevent your teen from becoming another statistic, Wang suggests discussing concerns about your child's behavior with him or her to come to a calm agreement.