Yelling at Children: Long-Term Effects Explored in New Research

06.10.2023 posted by Admin

Yelling Parents: Lasting Harm on Children

New research findings indicate that parents or caregivers who resort to yelling at their children may be causing lasting psychological harm to them. A study conducted by researchers from Wingate University in North Carolina and University College London suggests that "childhood verbal abuse" (CVA), primarily characterized by yelling and screaming, can have adverse effects on the mental and physical well-being of children throughout their lives.

Published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect this week, this comprehensive review included an analysis of 166 prior studies related to "childhood maltreatment" spanning over 45 years, from 1976 to May 2022. The study categorizes child maltreatment into four general types: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect, with CVA falling under emotional abuse. This form of abuse involves shouting, yelling, denigrating the child, and issuing verbal threats.

The researchers focused their selection of studies on various forms of verbal abuse, including verbal aggression, hostility, emotional abuse, violence, harsh discipline, and assault. The study emphasizes that these actions can be just as detrimental to a child's development as other recognized forms of maltreatment, such as physical and sexual abuse.

Dr. Zachary Ginder, a psychological consultant and clinical psychologist, highlighted that emotional abuse, including child verbal abuse, often goes unnoticed because it occurs within closed environments and lacks visibility. Verbal abuse can take various forms, including intimidation, hostility, and degradation, and it can become a normalized, generational issue within families or learning environments.

The study revealed that adult perpetrators of verbal abuse are primarily parents (76.5%), followed by other adults or caregivers in the home (2.4%), mothers (8.8%), teachers (7.1%), coaches (0.6%), police (0.6%), and multiple individuals (3.5%). Various forms of abuse, such as criticism, name-calling, ridiculing, rejecting, scolding, and bullying, were identified.

The consequences of childhood verbal abuse encompass emotional and mental distress (anger, depression, frustration), externalizing symptoms (delinquent behavior, substance abuse, perpetration of abuse), internalizing behaviors (self-esteem, emotional control, dysphoria), neurobiological changes, and physical health outcomes (obesity, COPD). Depression, aggression, behavioral disorders, substance use, anger, COPD, and delinquent behavior were the most commonly reported outcomes among children in the reviewed studies.

Shanta R. Dube, PhD, director of the Master of Public Health Program at Wingate University and the study's author, emphasized that childhood verbal abuse is a hidden problem leading to depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and other issues, and it should be a focal point for detection not only among parents but all adults, including teachers and coaches.

Dr. Shana Johnson, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, noted that formally recognizing CVA as a form of childhood emotional abuse creates opportunities for education, research, and effective interventions. She emphasized that words can indeed cause harm, debunking the notion that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

Ginder stressed that even a single incident of verbal maltreatment can be life-altering for some children and youth, while prolonged verbal abuse unquestionably leads to significant harm. Building awareness, equipping parents and teachers with communication skills to support positive parenting, and early intervention in cases of verbal abuse are essential priorities.

However, the study also acknowledged some limitations. It was completed in 2022, and subsequent research may have been conducted since then. Geographical and cultural factors were not considered in the examination of childhood verbal abuse, and the study did not investigate risk factors. Additionally, it focused exclusively on adult-to-child cases and excluded verbal abuse among peers or romantic partners, which could be the subject of future research. The review was commissioned by Words Matter, a U.K.-based charity advocating for the prevention of childhood verbal abuse through research and awareness.
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