Harsh Verbal Discipline Just As Bad As Physical Punishment

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

While many parents would never think of physically disciplining their child due to evidence indicating that it has a negative effect on their psychological well-being, they may resort to verbal discipline such as shouting, cursing or using insulting language.

However, these types of verbal discipline could be just as damaging, according to a new study from psychologists at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education and the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

Published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, the study concluded that the use of rough verbal discipline may aggravate a child’s problematic behavior instead of curbing it as most parents intend.

The study authors concluded that adolescents who received harsh verbal discipline from their parents suffered from higher levels of depressive symptoms and were more likely to exhibit antisocial or aggressive behavior. The authors emphasized that they found the negative effects of strong verbal discipline within the two-year period of their study were similar to the effects seen in similar studies that focused on physical discipline.

“From that we can infer that these results will last the same way that the effects of physical discipline do because the immediate-to-two-year effects of verbal discipline were about the same as for physical discipline,” said co-author Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Based on previous research involving physical discipline, the researchers said they would predict similar long-term results for adolescents as well.

The study authors also noted that the degree of “parental warmth” or emotional support that a parent gives their child had no mitigating effect on the damage caused by caustic verbal discipline.

“Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad,” Wang said.

The researchers also found that harsh verbal discipline happened more frequently when a child exhibited problem behaviors. These problem behaviors, in turn, were more likely to persist when adolescents were the subjects of verbal discipline.

“It’s a vicious circle,” Wang said. “And it’s a tough call for parents because it goes both ways: problem behaviors from children create the desire to give harsh verbal discipline, but that discipline may push adolescents toward those same problem behaviors.”

For parents who wish to discipline problematic behavior, the researchers suggested they explain to their child their concerns about the behavior as well as the rationale for specific disciplinary action. They added that parenting programs are well positioned to offer alternatives to harsh verbal discipline.

The study was conducted in ten public middle schools located in eastern Pennsylvania over a two-year period, and included almost 970 adolescents and their parents. Both students and their parents completed questionnaires during the study period on topics related to their mental health, parenting practices, the quality of the parent-child relationship, and general demographics.

“There was nothing extreme or broken about these homes,” Wang stressed. “These were not ‘high-risk’ families. We can assume there are a lot of families like this – there’s an okay relationship between parents and kids, and the parents care about their kids and don’t want them to engage in problem behaviors.”

The trick of parenting seems to be figuring out how to do that in a constructive manner.

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