Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that counts. But sometimes it is what you say and how you say it that can make things worse:
A tactic that doesn’t work is broadly called harsh verbal discipline, whether that’s shouting at teens, yelling, screaming, swearing, insulting or calling them names, says a study out today. In fact, those parenting actions increase the risk that the adolescent will misbehave and suffer symptoms of depression.
Nanci Hellmich summarizes a new study from the University of Pittsburgh:
Wang and colleagues studied 967 two-parent families and their teens in Pennsylvania. Most of the families were middle class, generally white or African American. The parents and their children completed surveys over a two-year period on issues such as parent-child relationships and mental health.
Thirteen-year-olds who received a lot of harsh verbal discipline from their parents were more likely to have symptoms of depression at age 14, according to the findings published in the journal Child Development. They were also more likely to exhibit problem behaviors such as anger, aggression, vandalism and misconduct, Wang says.
Psychologists who work with teens and their families say parents should carefully consider the implications of these findings.
Hellmich asks an expert:
When you expose children to prolonged stress — and it does not have to be severe stress — you increase the risk of all kinds of physical and mental health problems, says Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University and author of The Everyday Parenting Toolkit.
You do not want harshness in the home, Kazdin says. “We do not want toxins. That shows up in mental and physical health. We want acceptance, nurturing, love, cuddling.”
Parents need to be parents to their kids, not bullies and not friends. We need to set reasonable limits and have reasonably high expectations. While our kids will from time-to-time disappoint us with their behavior and the choices they make, it’s in their best interest to teach them consequences with kindness.
Like the bumper sticker says: “Mean people suck.” Our kids know that’s true.