Yelling Worsens Teen Behavior


Although a previous study indicates that at least 90% of parents admit to yelling or using harsh verbal discipline on their teenage children, a new study suggests that these tactics actually backfire and worsen their behavior. In the recent study, researchers found that children who were harshly verbally disciplined at 13 exhibited more behavioral problems and increased signs of depression at this same age and at 14.

Behavioral problems and depression symptoms were worst in children who were yelled at most frequently, according to the study. The researchers suggested that this could create a vicious cycle in which children are yelled at more as their behavior worsens, which only makes their behavior worse and leads to more yelling. Many family experts suggest disengaging from a negative situation to cool down before succumbing to yelling.

“Dumb,” “Lazy” – Teens Take Insults to Heart

Ming-Te Wang, a University of Pittsburgh psychology professor and one of the lead researchers behind the study, said that the study lends credence to the notion of “no matter how loud I yell, my teen doesn’t listen.” He said that a better way of modifying teen behavior would be to communicate with them calmly and rationally, and explain the reasoning behind their worry.

The new study, which was among the first to analyze the long-term effects of harsh verbal discipline on young teens, included nearly 1,000 families who included a father, a mother and a child in middle school. All of the families included in the study resided in Pennsylvania at the time data was collected.

In the context of the study, harsh verbal discipline included activities such as cursing, swearing, screaming, shouting and calling names such as “lazy” and “dumb.” About 42% of fathers and 45% of mothers admitted to using this type of discipline at some point during the prior year. Even in families that were otherwise caring and supportive of their teens, harsh verbal discipline appeared to negatively impact behavior.

Meaningful Results Despite Self-Reported Data

In identifying the link between harsh verbal discipline and negative behavioral traits, the University of Pittsburgh researchers were careful to account for factors that could’ve impacted the results, such as whether physical discipline was used and the socioeconomic status of the families.

However, inaccuracies could be included in the study due to the fact that all data was self-reported. Parents reported the types of discipline they used, while children reported the behavioral problems and depression symptoms they exhibited. Both parties may have felt inclined to provide answers that they deemed more socially acceptable, which could have influenced the results. At the same time, the researchers said that the link would have probably only strengthened had study subjects been completely truthful.

The researchers also said that teens may interpret yelling and cursing as a form of scorn or rejection, and subsequently take a negative view of themselves and/or their relationship with their parents.

The Bottom Line

Parents who attempt to modify their teen’s behavior using harsh verbal discipline should only expect their teen’s behavior to get worse, and for them to become depressed, according to a new study.

The full text of the study can be found online in Child Development.

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