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Yelling At Teens Exacerbates Problem Behavior

Update Date: Sep 04, 2013 01:05 PM EDT

Parents who scream and shout at their teenage kids as punishment are increasing their children's risk of depression and problem behavior.

New research reveals that harsh verbal discipline in early adolescence causes more harm than good. Instead of helping, harsh verbal discipline might actually worsen problematic behavior in teens.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan found that verbal discipline, which can range from yelling and shouting, to using swear words and humiliation, could cause children to experience emotional pain or discomfort.

Harsh verbal discipline can have a dramatic impact on teen's emotional development.  Researchers said this is true even among those who enjoy a close relationship with their parents.

The study involved 976 two-parent families in the United States.  Most of the participants were of middle-class socioeconomic status. Researchers found that many parents shift from physical to verbal discipline as their children enter adolescence. Previous research revealed that around 90 percent of American parents reported one or more instances of using harsh verbal discipline with children of all ages.

The study revealed that teens were more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems later on in life if they were exposed to harsh verbal punishment in early adolescence.  Teens who were yelled at by their parents in early adolescence suffered more depressive symptoms between ages 13 and 14 than their peers who weren't disciplined in this way.  They were also more likely to have conduct problems like misbehaving at school, lying to parents, stealing, or fighting.

"This is one of the first studies to indicate that parents' harsh verbal discipline is damaging to the developing adolescent," lead researcher Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a news release.

"The notion that harsh discipline is without consequence, once there is a strong parent-child bond-that the adolescent will understand that 'they're doing this because they love me'-is misguided because parents' warmth didn't lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline," she explained.

"Indeed, harsh verbal discipline appears to be detrimental in all circumstances," Wang said.

Harsh verbal discipline may even exacerbate behavioral problems in teens.  Researchers explain that parents' hostility increases the risk of delinquency by lowering inhibition and fostering anger, irritability and belligerence in teens.

For the study, teens and parents were asked to complete surveys over a two-year period on topics related to their mental health, child rearing practices and the quality of the parent-child relationship.

Researchers recommend that parents discipline children by talking to children about their concerns and explaining to them the consequences of their behavior. They hope the latest findings could influence parenting programs and encourage alternative methods of discipline.

The findings are published in the journal Child Development

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