Should you ever yell at your kids?

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!

Photo of the day

From Wired.  Extended exposure photos of fireflies.  Very, very cool.

Japanese Fireflies

Photo: Tsuneaki Hiramatsu

Nation of nations

A former student sent me a link to this Tufts alumni magazine piece that breaks America up into 11 separate “nations.”  Colin Woodward begins through the lens of regional differences in violence and takes off from there:

 To understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns and the lasting cultural fissures they established.

The original North American colonies were settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles—and from France, the Netherlands, and Spain—each with its own religious, political, and ethnographic traits. For generations, these Euro-American cultures developed in isolation from one another, consolidating their cherished religious and political principles and fundamental values, and expanding across the eastern half of the continent in nearly exclusive settlement bands. Throughout the colonial period and the Early Republic, they saw themselves as competitors—for land, capital, and other settlers—and even as enemies, taking opposing sides in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.

There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas—each a distinct nation. There are eleven nations today. Each looks at violence, as well as everything else, in its own way.

I was born and raised in “Tidewater” and have been living in it since my time at NCSU.  In fact, all but 8 of my 41 years have been Tidewater.  Here’s the description:

TIDEWATER. Built by the younger sons of southern English gentry in the Chesapeake country and neighboring sections of Delaware and North Carolina, Tidewater was meant to reproduce the semifeudal society of the countryside they’d left behind. Standing in for the peasantry were indentured servants and, later, slaves. Tidewater places a high value on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics. It was the most powerful of the American nations in the eighteenth century, but today it is in decline, partly because it was cut off from westward expansion by its boisterous Appalachian neighbors and, more recently, because it has been eaten away by the expanding federal halos around D.C. and Norfolk.

Courtesy Tufts Magazine

Courtesy Tufts Magazine

It’s really quite interesting stuff.  And if you want a shorter summary, here’s a nice one in the Post.


In memory of Craig Brians

In my regular morning scan of Facebook yesterday, I got the horrible shock that a close friend, Craig Brians, had unexpectedly died of a sudden heart attack on Sunday evening.  Craig was a great friend and really and truly the nicest person I’ve ever known.  Craig was an Associate Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech, where he was a much beloved teacher and colleague.  In 1998 Kim and I moved to Blacksburg for her to complete a pre-doctoral internship in Counseling Psychology.  I was still working on my dissertation and lamented being far from my PS friends at Ohio State.  I decided I needed a PS friend at Virginia Tech and semi-stalked Craig– a brand new professor there and fellow student of American political behavior– at the APSA conference in Boston.  Serendipitously, I found him in the hotel jacuzzi (little did I realize at the time, that, when in doubt, this was the place to find Craig).  We talked for hours and thus begun a great friendship that was sadly all too brief.  Craig was an excellent political scientist and it was enormously rewarding and stimulating to work on research together with him in the early days of our friendship.  Over time, our research interests diverged as he became devoted to the study of good teaching, and now much to my chagrin, we did not talk as much, but he remained a great friend.

What was truly amazing about Craig was how genuinely nice and positive he always was while undergoing debilitating, chronic pain.  Craig was actually a police officer (and a damn good one, according to his account, which I definitely believe) before a severe back injury in the line of duty sent him towards academia.  But not for a bad fall over a 6-foot fence while chasing a bad guy, Craig would still be happily keeping the peace in Fresno, CA and all of us in Political Science would never have known him.  Craig’s injury was bad.  The reason he was always in the jacuzzi is that there was only so much that pain medication (and a number of failed surgeries) could do for him.  But I swear, never, never did he complain about the pain.  He’d let you know that he discomfort was getting pretty bad and he would have to go lie down or hit the hot tub, but he would never complain about it, just explain as if one were just worn out and needed to go to bed.  To be so relentlessly upbeat in the face of constant pain is really among the more inspiring feats of character I have ever personally witnessed.

Although our phone calls declined in frequency over the years, I could always count on having a fabulous time seeing him once or twice a year at PS conferences.  I’ll never forget our trip out to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia in 2003.  Or our great time touring the Shedd Aquarium (photo below)  in Chicago a year and half ago.

Craig leaves behind two beautiful grown daughters, and oh-so-tragically two delightful boys under 10 (to whom he was a terrific and dedicated father) and a wonderful loving wife who is also a Va Tech Professor.  I’ve always been senstive to/skeptical of the hagiography that seems to come with many people’s untimely passing.  But in Craig’s case the outpouring of kind words and love is 100% earned and genuine.  I always like to think of the metaphor of how much of a ripple in the lake of humanity various individuals make.  Craig was a very big rock worth of ripples.  Everybody who knew Craig liked Craig.  Seriously, everybody.  And the world is a much lesser place for his loss.

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