As parents, we all know the importance of consistency, structure, boundaries and follow-through when it comes to disciplining our children. We also know, however, that treating our children with kindness, respect and dignity while enforcing consequences gets us much further than humiliation, threats, yelling and physical force do.
A new study is finding that harsh parenting, in addition to having immediate negative consequences, does have consequences that last well into our children’s lives.
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The study, published in Child Development, suggests that harsh parenting — defined as frequent yelling, hitting and engaging in forceful behaviors such as verbal or physical threats — may bring out the worst in teens’ behavior instead of getting them to follow the rules.
“We believe our study is the first to use children’s life histories as a framework to examine how parenting affects children’s educational outcomes via relationships with peers, sexual behavior, and delinquency,” notes study leader Rochelle F. Hentges, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Researchers followed 1,482 adolescents (the study concluded with 1,060 participants) over a nine-year period from seventh grade until three years after the students were expected to graduate from high school. Through the duration of the study, the students were required to report their exposure to harsh parenting, their social interaction with peers, sexual behavior and delinquency. And what they found was that those who were parented harshly in seventh grade were more likely to turn to their peers in unhealthy ways and engage in risky behaviors in 11th grade.
The study also found that kids who grew up with harsh parenting faced a higher chance of dropping out of school, which was associated with lower educational achievement by the age of 21.
Hentges hypothesizes that adolescents whose needs have not been met by their parents may seek validation from peers. “This may include turning to peers in unhealthy ways, which may lead to increased aggression and delinquency, as well as early sexual behavior at the expense of long-term goals such as education,” she adds.
The takeaway for parents is that disciplining with dignity, talking with our kids rather than at them and giving them the positive attention they crave can help us stay better connected, especially when they are teens and the price tag for their choices and resulting consequences is much higher.