As a parenting generation, we're yelling at our kids way more than, collectively, our own parents did. In our defense, the yelling takes the place of spanking, which has dropped precipitously decade over decade. Plenty of research has shown that damage from spanking is unequivocal—not only does it not end bad behaviors (it just sends them underground), it has been shown to make kids more aggressive at home and with their peers—and makes their adult relationships less satisfying.
The truth is, though, yelling isn't such great shakes either. By far it's better than spanking, but yelling also has the potential for long-term damage, such as wrecking your current 7-year-old's chances at a decent relationship in her 20s, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal on the negative effects of losing it on the kids.
As a less-frequent yeller, I know the shame some readers might be feeling after reading the above paragraph. But keep reading. What's important to know, especially for the emotional volcanoes among us, is that there's a right way and a wrong way to yell at children. The root of the wrong way, experts say, is taking their misdeeds personally, which can push parents to fight back and launch personal missives against their kids. Belittling children, attacking them personally, saying things like "Why can't you ever remember this!" or "You're 7! You should be doing that!" is when a parent's voice, no matter the volume, seeps into a child's sense of self and stews for years. (More about studies concluding just that in a moment.)
Teens of parents who yelled had higher rates of misbehavior and depression.
Instead, parents are advised to focus on the behavior and expected action to fix said behavior. The Wall Street Journal has a nice little video where a mom demonstrates her low-volume tact. When she feels the rage, she recognizes it and tries to stay calm. Then she plugs the right variables into the following phrase: "I don't like (behavior). And I expect (action)." The reason it works and spares your child future marriage difficulties is that it puts the parents and the child in problem-solving mode. "What's wrong with this picture? Here's what I expect."
Using that as the model, it's easy to see why grounding—or its more violent cousin, spanking—doesn't work. And you can see why yelling about a child's laziness or inflated sense of self is rather off topic. There's no connection between staying home on a Friday night and an empty dishwasher. Feeding the dog is unrelated to personal characteristics. Yes, there's frustration and desperation on the parents' part, those thought-bubbles of "Am I raising an entitled brat?" "How will she ever live on her own?" "Why is everything a battle?" But do insults or a stinging butt beget a well-fed dog? No, not seeing it. A sad dog with an empty bowl? I expect you to fill that bowl. Yes, solid connection right there.
Yellers are well-advised to start these changes as soon as they can, especially if they're not yet in the teen years, according to the studies I promised: Ming-Te Wang, an assistant professor of psychology and education at the University of Pittsburgh, surveyed 976 middle-class teens and their parents. She found that the teens of parents who yelled had higher rates of misbehavior and depression.
A 15-year study led by Stephanie Parade, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, found that 8-year-olds whose parents used yelling to discipline them had less satisfying relationships with romantic partners and spouses at age 23. While studies show the negative effects of spanking—which also predicts less satisfying adult relationships—could be offset by parental praise at other times, parental warmth did nothing to counteract the negative effects of yelling that focused on blame and shame.