A client of mine once shared with me a conversation she had with her children regarding her belief that they should get a college education. Their report cards came in, and she was not happy with the grades she saw, she then began to give her children a lecture about the importance of taking their classes seriously and going to college. It was then that one of her children said to her,
"But Mum, you don't have a college degree," and her response?
"Do you want to struggle financially like I have?"
Now this post isn't about trumpeting horns regarding the importance of a college education. It is instead about the importance of a parent's ability to be consistently honest with his or her children.
Do as I say and not I do has always been an ineffective style of parenting—it is not uncommon for parents to place expectations on their children that they have not been able to live up to. The beauty about this interaction my client shared with me is that she was humble and honest in her communication with her children. She was pushing them to achieve something that she has yet to achieve and when challenged on her reasoning, she offered a very simple explanation that none of her children could contest.
What inspired me to write this post today was on a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers of the longitudinal study claim that parents who yell at their children as a form of discipline, risk causing psychological damage to their children. Furthermore, they also claim that the psychological detriments that result from yelling, such as being hyper aggressive or too timid, is similar to the detriments that result from parents hitting their children.
In processing the results of this study and the article, I found myself asking, what leads parents to become verbally aggressive with their children? The answer I believe lies in the child imitating flawed behaviors that the parent has unintentionally role modeled for the child. It's kind of like a parent with an untidy bedroom quarreling with a teen in the home over his or her bedroom being more untidy. Or a parent who habitually struggled to make good grades in school, giving his child a hard time for having poor grades in school. There is nothing wrong with holding your children to high standards, even standards that you have failed to achieve, however emphasis should be on working with children to readily identify problems and seek solutions.
Perhaps the reason children who experience emotional anguish after being yelled at by their parents, experience the anguish because they secretly feel inferior for not living up to expectations mandated by their parents. Regardless, it is important for parents to note that the teenage years marks a period of awakening, where teenagers become more aware about flaws with adults and society, to include a desire to seek autonomy.
I find it hard to believe that a parent can parent a child to maturity without ever raising his or her voice at his or her children. I do understand that yelling becomes detrimental if it is habitual. However, I believe a parent's baseline attitude towards his or her child is a primary factor to consider when measuring for well being or detriment.
Ugo is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach.