November 12, 2013 Leave a comment
As Evan was up to his usual exasperating self tonight and David was, as always, refusing to stop playing video games when asked, I will admit the volume of my voice may have gone up a few decibels. According to this research summarized in Slate, I may be permanently damaging my kids:
A study out in the September issue of the Journal of Child Psychology suggests that yelling is really bad for spawn. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that “harsh verbal discipline”—cursing, insults, and shouting—can be as harmful to kids as hitting or spanking. The scientists tracked 967 middle-schoolers for two years. The students attended 10 public schools in eastern Pennsylvania and came from middle-class families that were not considered “high risk.” Sifting through surveys these kids and their families completed on “their mental health, child-rearing practices, the quality of the parent-child relationship and general demographics,” researchers concluded that 1) yelling and bratty behavior reinforced each other, 2) yelling increased the likelihood that a child would become depressed, and 3) even kids in homes that were otherwise “warm and loving” were not immune to a raised voice’s damaging effects.
I’d like to know a little bit more about the measurement, but I’m feeling too lazy tonight to consult the full study. That said, it strikes me that cursing and insults are categorically different than shouting. Being loud is one thing. Belittling your children strikes me as something else entirely (and something I try damn hard not to do). I’d hate to think these are confounded into a single measure.
I enjoyed the pushback on this at the Motherlode blog:
Personally, I wouldn’t yell at my children if they would just do what I’ve asked the first time, or maybe do the thing I’ve asked them to do 463 times in the past. Or if they didn’t chase one another through the kitchen at dinnertime, brandishing light sabers. Or if they got up when the alarm clock went off in the morning, or put their shoes on so we could leave the house, or moved that glass of milk, the one that’s right by your elbow and … too late…
Pittsburgh’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, said that even lapsing only occasionally into the use of harsh verbal discipline can still be harmful. “Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad,” he said.
Got that? Even your occasional lapses — even that time you asked the child, deeply absorbed in “Artemis Fowl” over breakfast and gradually, slowly pushing the book right into your coffee, to please sit up and be careful, and when he did, he knocked the whole cup into your lap — even that time was “bad.”
Bad, I tell you. Bad. Because you, you parent who occasionally shouts at your dreamy, distant, rebellious or just plain maddening teenager or pre-teenager? You are failing, and — again according to the press release — nothing, no amount of “love, emotional support and affection between parents and adolescents” can “lessen the effects of the verbal discipline” or “mitigate the damage inflicted.”
When does someone try to mitigate the damage that overgeneralizing research results has on parents? [emphasis mine]
Oh, snap! And this:
On Motherlode, I’m calling this one out. I’ve looked at the study. I’m not accusing the researchers of any failings (this is a peer-reviewed study, which appears to have dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s).
I’m merely saying that I refuse to buy it. I refuse to let this one crawl into my brain and take up residence in my psyche, where it could snuggle up right next to the baby sleep expert who wrote something like “even leaving an infant to cry alone a single time is damaging to the trust you are building between you” and caused me untold sleepless nights. If a parent’s hauling off and hollering over a lapful of hot coffee is now considered to be as “damaging” to a child as it would be to lash out with our fists, then the real message of that research is this: Only the perfect parent can rest easy, while the rest of us must just live with the knowledge that we’re inflicting harm with every “occasional lapse.”
Thank you on behalf of us imperfect parents. Of course, I could not help think about what happens when a parent tries to bottle this all up. Serenity now!