Yelling at children, new study reveals: as harmful as physical or sexual abuse

Parents who yell at their children or call them “stupid” put their children at risk of self-harm, drug use and ending up in prison. This is what new research published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect supports. According to experts, talking harshly to children should be recognized as a form of abuse due to the enormous damage it causes. Scientists say that “yelling, child denigration, and verbal threats may be as harmful to a child’s development as other subtypes of maltreatment currently recognized and established by forensics, such as childhood physical and sexual abuse.”

The UK survey

Professor Shanta R Dube, an American expert on child abuse and co-author of the study, said: “Adults are often unaware of how their shouting and critical words, such as ‘stupid’ and ‘lazy’, can have a negative impact on children.” A recent survey of 1,000 children aged between 11 and 17 in the UK found that 41% said that adults – mainly parents, guardians, teachers and parents of friends – they often used hurtful and upsetting words to blame, insult or criticize them. Half (51%) said they experienced this behavior weekly and one in 10 said they experienced it daily.

The results of the research

Professor Peter Fonagy, co-author of the study, head of the division of psychology and language sciences at University College London (UCL) and chief executive of the Anna Freud Centre, said: “We know from literally hundreds of studies that exposure Verbal abuse affects children profoundly and is associated with persistent psychological distress, complex emotional and relational difficulties, physical and mental disorders, increased likelihood of recreating abusive situations in their lives, for example finding an abusive partner, as well as find themselves repeating the abuse with others.”

The effects over time

According to Fonagy “the use of words to intimidate, shame and control may seem less harmful than a physical threat, but the same risks accompany this improper use of language: low self-esteem, increased use of nicotine, alcohol and substances, increased risk of anxiety, depression [e] even psychotic disorders.”