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Health & Parenting

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Screaming at Your Misbehaving Teen May Backfire

Study found verbal abuse promoted more disobedience and conflict


In particular, between the ages of 13 and 14 all the children were asked to disclose the frequency and nature of any recent behavioral issues, including in-school disobedience, stealing, fighting, damaging property for fun or lying to their parents.

Parents, meanwhile, were asked to reveal how often they had engaged in harsh verbal discipline, along the lines of having yelled, shouted, screamed, sworn or cursed at their teen. Name-calling -- such as calling their child "dumb" or "lazy" -- was also noted.

At the same time, teens were asked to describe to what degree they felt "warmth" in their relationship with their parents, as a function of the amount of parental love, emotional support, affection and care they felt was directed their way. In addition, both teen and parental depression were tracked.

The teens who experienced the kind of emotional pain and discomfort brought on by a parental verbal onslaught showed a bump in anger alongside a drop in inhibition, prompting an increase in the very things -- lying, cheating, stealing or fighting -- that most parents set out to stop.

"Importantly, we also found that 'parental warmth' did not lessen the effects of the verbal discipline," Wang said. "The sense that parents are yelling at the child 'out of love,' or 'for their own good' does not mitigate the damage inflicted. Neither does the strength of the parent-child bond. Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it's still bad," he pointed out.

"Parents who wish to modify their teenage children's behavior would do better by communicating with them on an equal level," he added, "and explaining their rationale and worries to them. Parenting programs are in a good position to offer parents insight into how behaviors they may feel the need to resort to, such as shouting or yelling, are ineffective and or harmful, and to offer alternatives to such behaviors."

Rahil Briggs, director of pediatric behavioral health services at Montefiore Medical Center and an assistant professor of pediatrics with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, expressed little surprise with the findings.

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