When a teen acts out, a dose of harsh verbal discipline may seem like the best way to get his or her attention. But a new study published in the Journal of Child Development reports that raising your voice is just as detrimental as raising your hand.
This is the first time a study on the effects of verbal discipline on teens has been done. Researchers followed 967 middle-class families with teens for two years and compared the ways the various parents disciplined their kids. “There was nothing extreme or broken about these homes,” Ming-Te Wang, the lead researcher of the study tells the University of Pittsburgh News, where he is a professor of psychology in education. “These are not ‘high risk’ families. We can assume there are a lot of families like this – there’s an OK relationship between parents and kids, and parents care about their kids and don’t want them to engage in problem behaviors.”
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It turns out, yelling at your teen leads to a vicious cycle: A teen acts out and gets yelled at, which can lead to depression and an increase in bad behavior. And it isn’t just limited to yelling. Swearing or insulting your teen has the same effect. Wang found that 13-year-olds whose parents used verbal discipline were more likely to be depressed the next year. They were also more likely to get in trouble at school and in the community.
So, if you can’t spank or yell at your teen, what can you do? The study found the most successful way to raise a respectful teen who stays out of trouble is to simply talk and reason with them like you would an adult. Instead of berating your teen or trying to make them feel embarrassed, explain why what they did was wrong and its potential negative consequences.
Of course, sometimes talking isn’t enough. Create rules together so your teen knows what they are in advance and the consequences if they are broken. If your teen knows that staying out past curfew means no texting the next day, they won’t be surprised when you lay down the law and put their phone on lockdown. Another parenting tactic that the study found successful is giving praise when a teen does something positive, like finishing their homework before dinner or cleaning their room.
This may all sound good in theory, but keeping your emotions in check is easier said than done. To avoid the occasional outburst, wait until you aren’t ticked off to talk to your teen. Waiting a day to discipline your teen will not take away from the punishment. Then, you’ll be better mentally prepared for whatever hurtful comments may be hurled your way. Or if you slip up and find yourself in a screaming match, it’s still not too late to stop. Put the conversation on hold until you and your child have both cooled down.
The most important part of raising a teenager is making them feel loved – even when you’re about to take away their cell phone.