There has never been a parent of a teenager who was not at some point inspired to yell, loudly, at their offspring. It is the nature of parents and teenagers to butt heads and to disagree. It is also normal and even expected that teenagers will try to spread their wings and do things their parents don’t think they are ready to do. Arguments between parents and teens are so common and natural that they are the ultimate teen/parent cliché. But is all that yelling, swearing, and insulting actually helping?
A new study from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan says no and that in actuality, all that hostility and all those harsh words may actually be doing damage. The findings indicate that even if disagreement, disapproval, and arguing are normal in parent/teen relationships, how you, the parent, chooses to communicate during these troubled times may have a real impact on your teen’s mental health.
The study, which was published in the journal Child Development, found that 13 year olds whose parents yelled at them were more likely to show signs of depression than teens whose parents did not yell. These results indicate that harsh verbal discipline may be damaging to adolescents in ways not previously understood. This is one of the first research initiatives to indicate that using harsh words and yelling can have consequences.
The study was conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and included almost 1,000 two parent families from the U.S that included a 13 year old child. The research team looked at what differences displayed in families where parents engaged in harsh verbal discipline from those that did not. Across the participants, the study showed that when parents engaged in harsh verbal discipline at age 13, children were more likely to have conduct problems and display the signs and symptoms of depression. Additionally, children who displayed conduct problems at age 13 were more likely to have parents who engaged in harsh verbal discipline when their children were ages 13 and 14.
Participants completed surveys over a two year period that tracked information on mental health, parenting tactics, and how parents and children felt about their relationship.
The study also looked to see if there were factors that mitigated this damage. Many parents believe that as long as there is a strong bond between them and their child, yelling doesn’t have real consequences. The idea that teenagers somehow understand that parents are only yelling, swearing, and saying mean or insulting things because they love them and want what is best for them is misguided. In fact, the study showed that the damage done by harsh verbal discipline was not mitigated by or lessened by parental warmth, care or concern.
These findings confirm that even parents who would never consider intentionally doing something that was damaging to their child may be harming them by choosing the wrong words and the wrong tone of voice.
If you find it’s difficult to control how you speak to your teen and would like some help with ways to communicate differently, please contact Doorways or another counselor.