You’d be hard pressed to find a parent who hasn’t, at some point in parenthood, lost their cool with their kid. Sometimes, though we may try our damndest, many parents reach our boiling point and end up having a screaming fit at the expense of our offspring.
We’re human. We have those less-than-perfect moments. That being said, there is also a difference between screaming, “GET IN THE CAR — NOW!” versus something that is degrading and qualifies as verbal abuse.
According to a new study, the latter type of screaming — denigrating or verbally threatening children — can be as damaging to their development as sexual or physical abuse.
Parents who shout at their children or call them “stupid” are at greater risk of leading their children to self-harm, participate in drug use, or end up in jail, the new research claims.
Experts say talking harshly to children should be recognized as a form of abuse because of the damage that can be caused. Researchers in Britain and North Carolina discovered that adults who shout at children can scar them just as badly as being beaten or molested can — whether the abuse comes from parents, relatives, teachers or coaches.
Verbal shaming and threats can lead to detrimental effects such as depression, criminal activity, substance abuse, and obesity, said the study recently in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.
Researchers reviewed 166 studies conducted from 1976 to 2022 on verbal abuse and development of kids ages six months to 17 years. They found this type of abuse most commonly came from parents — particularly mothers — and teachers.
They found 76.5% of childhood verbal abusers were parents, 2.4% were other caregivers in the home, and 12.7% were teachers. Other adults noted were coaches (0.6%) and police (0.6%).
Common characteristics of verbal abuse were shouting, yelling, screaming, cursing, and calling the child names.
Currently, child abuse is divided into four categories: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect.
“Childhood verbal abuse desperately needs to be acknowledged as an abuse subtype because of the lifelong negative consequences,” said professor Shanta Dube, lead author of the study and director of Wingate's Master of Public Health Program, said in a statement.
The study also noted that more research is needed to determine which age groups are most affected by being verbally abused.
Jessica Bondy, the founder of Words Matter, stressed the importance of grasping “the true scale and impact of childhood verbal abuse.”
“All adults get overloaded sometimes and say things unintentionally,” she said to CNN. “We have to work collectively to devise ways to recognize these actions and end childhood verbal abuse by adults so children can flourish.”
Researchers also called for a “need for consistency” in defining childhood verbal abuse so that its “prevalence and impact can be appropriately measured, and interventions developed.”
So, how can adults try and curb any of this from happening? It starts from the top.
Adults should avoid shouting, insults, putdowns and name calling when talking to children. How? Try taking a breath, working on self-regulating emotions, and thinking before speaking. If you do yell at your kids, taking time to apologize and repair a relationship with the child after losing your cool is just as important as trying to prevent it from happening in the first place.