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Blogger's Corner: Is Berating the New Style of Parenting?

Are parents that berate their kids causing future damage? Today, even for old-school-at-heart parents, spankings, especially in public, are taboo.
Are parents that berate their kids causing future damage?
Are parents that berate their kids causing future damage?

Today, even for old-school-at-heart parents, spankings, especially in public, are taboo.

No one wants a random stranger calling the New York State Office of Children and Family Services or the police on them in the middle of the grocery store. So I can't say I have seen any of those "in-the-aisle" spanking.

But what I have witnessed (I would imagine) that is equally as traumatizing as getting your ass beat for picking up a bag of skittles are parents cursing, screaming and threatening their children in public.

Study's show harsh verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse
Study's show harsh verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse

I'm not talking about just yelling: Every parent yells from time to time. I am talking about the berating, condescending, humiliating type of yelling. Some of the things I have heard parents say to their (be it as it may) disobedient children leave my mouth gapped open!

If it were one grown person saying these things to another grown person, I'd think a fight would surely ensue. My point being, it's an unfair fight. Ma'am he's three and you sound bat shit crazy screaming and cussing out a baby.

I came across an interesting and well-rounded response from Steven Schlozman, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a staff child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Schlozman was responding to a study that links harsh verbal discipline to adolescents' conduct problems and symptoms of depression.

Dr. Schlozman states:

...Kids who are the subject of continual beratings by their parents have higher rates of emotional problems, including depression, anxiety and conduct challenges. In other words, they feel less sure of themselves, they worry more, they are more prone to suffer the biological syndrome of depression, and they get into more trouble.

In fact, this study shows that when adolescents are the recipients of these negative interactions, they are in fact MORE likely to raise hell.

This of course creates a vicious circle; you get yelled at, you get into trouble, you then get yelled at more, and on it goes. Also, recall that the adolescent brain has a very hard time accurately attributing perceived criticisms.

The teen is wired to think that all redirections are assaultive and unfair. How many times has a 16-year-old asked a disappointed parent to "stop yelling" even though the parent is certain that no voices were raised. Ironically, it is this interaction that often yields the start of the REAL yelling.

"I'm not yelling," the parent, yells. And you're off to the races.

But, there are confounders galore. First, I worry that parent's who read or hear of this study, especially if the careful methodology of the study is shrunk to sound bites, will berate themselves for raising their collective voices towards their children.

We ALL raise our voices at our kids, and while the point of this particular study was not to suggest alternative strategies, one is hard pressed to come up with other means by which kids can receive disciplinary direction during highly emotional moments. The simple way of saying this? We all lose our tempers. When we lose our tempers, we yell.

We can't and shouldn't be Stepford parents. Stepford parents are creepy. Among the risks of feeling compelled as parents to be under such questionably possible emotional control is the fact that your children will never get to see how you respond to your own raised vocal tensions.

Making amends, showing insight into why you got angry and raised your voice in the first place, talking about your feelings to your kids…these are all part of being human and all are behaviors that it behooves us to model for our children…

(For Dr. Schlozman's full response and other responses to the study click here)

If you are now questioning how to discipline a rowdy child that is throwing a tantrum in the middle of the store because you just don't know what else to do, I encourage you share your ideas in the comment section.

Because there are other ways of handling discipline. I am not here to tell anyone how to parent, I am just here holding up a mirror showing you how you look when you behave worse than the child.