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Screaming at Your Misbehaving Teen May Backfire

Study found verbal abuse promoted more disobedience and conflict

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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.

"But it's important to point out that we're not just talking about shouting in frustration, which everybody has done," she acknowledged. "It's one thing entirely to raise your voice at your child. That happens. But it's another thing entirely to say to your teen 'you're dumb' or lazy, or issue vulgarities," Briggs explained.

"The issue," she added, "is that your parents are supposed to be on your side, on your team. But here we're talking about verbal intimidation and humiliation, which is in many ways the most damaging to children trying to find their way in life. So, this finding is not surprising at all."

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