Approximately 90 percent of parents in the United States react to teenage misbehavior by yelling, shouting, cursing, calling names, and using insulting and humiliating language. Most American parents are convinced that harsh verbal discipline forces their teenagers to listen, think about what they did wrong and avoid unacceptable behavior in the future. A recent study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and University of Michigan, however, reveals that these strategies don’t work. On the contrary, the researchers found that yelling on teenagers makes things even worse.
Ming-Te Wang from the University of Pittsburgh and the study co-author said yelling can’t reduce or eliminate problematic behavior but rather the opposite. He explained that teenage years are a very sensitive period of life and a period during which kids are developing their identities. Yelling at them in this sensitive period hurts their self-perception and makes them feel worthless. Wang said parents should avoid yelling and shouting on their adolescents and instead, talk to them about why a particular behavior is unacceptable and what are its consequences.
Timothy Verduin from the NYU Langone Medical Center who didn’t took part in the study agrees with its authors. He said discipline strategies such as taking away the television, computer, car keys, etc. are more effective than harsh verbal discipline. Verduin continued that yelling and shouting can take away the admiration and respect young adolescents have for their parents. He emphasized that parents should therefore avoid raising the tone of their voice, excessive criticism and the use of insulting language.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and University of Michigan studied nearly 1,000 families with kids aged 13 to 14 years. Kids were asked various questions about relationship with their parents, behavior problems and symptoms of depression. Parents, on the other hand, were asked to complete a survey on the use of harsh verbal discipline.
The researchers found that nearly one half of surveyed moms and almost as much dads used harsh verbal discipline to correct unacceptable behavior when their children were 13 years old. But they also found that the higher the levels of yelling, shouting and the use of insulting language, the higher the levels of behavior problems in teenagers. Young adolescents who were verbally disciplined more severely and more frequently, had more problems in school, exhibited more aggression and showed symptoms of depression.
According to the authors of the study, the effects of harsh verbal discipline are very similar to those of physical discipline such as hitting which has been linked to depression and aggression. But they also noted that the closeness and warmth of children’s relationship with their parents didn’t have any effect on the outcomes. Furthermore, repeated misbehaving or worsening of the behavior problems led parents to increase their verbal discipline strategies which in turn increased behavior problems.
The study appeared in the journal Child Development.
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