Angry words do hurt

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Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse.

DEAR Mr Dad, how bad is it to scream at kids? My next door neighbours have a couple of teens and they are constantly yelling at them, every single day. I’m talking top-of-your-lungs kind of stuff. Besides being really unpleasant to listen to, I’m worried about how that might affect the kids. Still, should I say something to the parents or just keep my mouth shut?

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is right up there with “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you” on the list of top annoying childhood sayings.

It also happens to be completely wrong. Screaming at kids is plenty bad. In fact, a new study has found that yelling at teens may do at least as much long-term damage as hitting.

Ming-Te Wang, a psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, led a team of researchers that tracked 976 13-year olds from two-parent families for two years. Among the findings was that the negative effects of “harsh verbal discipline” on the teens were comparable to the negative effects seen in children who had been physically disciplined.

And by “harsh verbal discipline” I mean yelling, screaming, swearing, humiliating, verbally intimidating and/or calling the child dumb or stupid.

Even though teenagers can sometimes be challenging and frustrating and infuriating, screaming at them may backfire and could even make problem behaviour worse.

At the beginning of the study, 45% of mothers and 42% of fathers admitted they had used harsh verbal discipline on their children at some point in the previous year. Over the course of the next year — between ages 13 and 14 — those teens were more likely than kids whose parents had NOT used harsh verbal discipline, to act out. They were also more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression and to report feeling worthless, useless, unwanted or unloved.

In a way, the connection between parents’ use of harsh verbal discipline and their teens’ behaviour is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.

“It’s a vicious circle,” said Wang. “... problem behaviours from children create the desire to give harsh verbal discipline, but that discipline may push adolescents toward those same problem behaviours.”

Now, as to your question of whether to say something to the parents or keep your mouth shut. Sadly, we’re living in a world where a critical comment — no matter how well-meaning — could get you shot, knifed or just punched out. So unless you’re confident that your neighbours won’t react violently, I’d opt for keeping your mouth shut — at least to them.

Reporting them to the authorities is an extreme step, which you shouldn’t take unless absolutely necessary.

Instead, you might tape a copy of this article (minus your question, which would give away who you are) to their front door. Hopefully they’ll get the message. – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

> Armin Brott is the author of The Military Father: A Hands-On Guide For Deployed Dads and The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, And Advice For Dads-To-Be. Readers may e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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