Spankings were a part of my childhood growing up. They weren’t a huge part, because I can count on both hands how many times it happened. The most memorable one was when I was about 6 years old. I took the big wooden saddle brush my mother was using to comb my hair, and I threw it at the glass table in our living room. Why? Because I was tender-headed and my mother hit a kink while she was combing my hair.
Boy, did that switch hurt. Did I deserve it? Looking back, I realize that yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown the brush.
My mother also yelled. Hell, at 57, she still yells. But eventually I learned to block out the yelling. She ended up sounding like the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons. Wok, wok, wok, wok, wok.
Everyone chooses different ways to discipline their child. Some people, not just black people, still go by the saying, “spare the rod, spoil the child”. Others rely on things like time outs, yelling, and taking away “fringe benefits”. In my house, there have been times when I’ve yelled at my son. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t yelled at a teenager. When he was younger, there was a smack on the butt here and there, but what worked more for him was taking away stuff he liked. Oh, you don’t want to clean the kitchen? Well, how about no Playstation, Xbox, internet wi-fi passwords or food (just kidding).
But a recent study takes discipline one step further. A study out of the University of Pittsburgh says yelling at teens and tweens — particularly when it involves cursing or insults — can be just as harmful as hitting. But I think the operative words here are “cursing” and “insults”, which are signs of verbal abuse.
The University of Pittsburgh study released in September looked at 967 middle school students over a two-year period. Those whose parents used “harsh verbal discipline” such as yelling, cursing and using insults were more likely to be depressed or have behavior problems. The study found it was also not effective in getting children to stop what they were doing, and that it was damaging even to children in homes that were generally warm and loving.
“If you yell at your child, you either create somebody who yells back at you or somebody who is shamed and retreats,” said Meghan Leahy, a mother of three and a parenting coach in Northwest Washington. “You’re either growing aggression or growing shame. Those are not characteristics that any parents want in their kids.”
There is a difference, of course, between being verbally abusive and using a sharply raised voice. Yelling alone is not always damaging, although the surprise of a sudden change in volume can cause a child to be fearful or anxious. It’s often what is said that is harmful, according to Deborah Sendek, program director for the Center for Effective Discipline(CED).
When my mother did yell, she never cursed or hurled insults. As a parent, that’s just something you shouldn’t do. Of course it could lead to other issues. In the case of this study, I think they probably found the bottom of the barrel parents.
The study also reminded me of an incident from a few summers ago. I invited a former friend, who’s known for being a “conscious” black woman, and her pre-teen daughter to come along on a trip to Six Flags, since my son needed an extra ride partner. At the end of the trip, the daughter wanted to stand in line for a funnel cake. At that point it started to drizzle and her mother was in a rush to go. The daughter? Not so much. All of a sudden, the mother is yelling and cursing at her daughter in public. My son stood there in shock and I could tell he felt sorry for the girl. The girl was embarrassed and I felt sorry for her. People were standing around with their mouths and eyes wide open.
Until that incident, I’d never heard a parent curse and yell at their child in such a way. Maybe was her form of discipline, but it doesn’t make it right. It’s always those parents who say, “Well my child is ok, there’s nothing wrong with him/her”. Sure, that could be the case, but chances are no kid wants to be cursed and humiliated.