Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yelling at kids as bad as hitting?

Wall Street Journal

Parents who yell at their adolescent children for misbehaving can cause some of the same problems as hitting them would, including increased risk of depression and aggressive behavior, according to a new study.
The study followed 976 two-parent families, with children assessed at ages 13 and 14. Researchers asked kids various survey questions to appraise their behavior problems, depression symptoms and the warmth of the relationship with their parents. Parents completed surveys to gauge their use of harsh verbal discipline.
When their children were 13, about 45% of participating mothers and 42% of fathers said they had used harsh verbal discipline with their child during the past year. Those kids whose parents used higher levels of harsh verbal discipline when their children were 13 experienced larger increases in behavior problems the next year, including fighting with peers, trouble in school and lying to parents, as well as symptoms of depression.
The increases were similar if parents used harsh verbal discipline or physical approaches such as pushing or spanking. The degree of warmth of the parent-child relationship outside of any altercations didn't alter the negative effects of the harsh verbal discipline. Kids' behavior problems also led parents to increase their use of harsh verbal discipline tactics, fueling an escalating cycle, the study found.

Unfortunately, because the researchers didn't have the chutzpah to randomly assign parents to "yelling" versus "non-yelling" conditions, this study doesn't tell us squat. There is no reason to believe that not yelling at those punks would have prevented their behavioral problems. That initial round of yelling at age 13 could have been provoked by the kids' emerging antisocial behaviors. And of course we are utterly neglecting the genetic influences -- kids who cause trouble at school are more likely to be the offspring of parents who also have difficulty controlling themselves. I'm not saying that yelling at kids is a good thing; in fact, it is probably a waste of time. But articles like this hopelessly confuse correlation and causation.

Here's a neat little article (also correlational) on the incidence of childhood abuse among serial killers.

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