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The Steep Price For Kids Whose Moms Are Always Losing It

Photograph by Twenty20

Modern parenting is full of mixed messages, many of them geared toward raising preschool and school-age children. Helicopter parenting results in helplessness, but permissive parenting increases entitlement. Be firm but not too firm.

Numerous studies back up these nuggets of parental wisdom, but what happens when parents make the shift from parenting little kids to parenting tweens and teens? Does parenting style impact big kids?

A new study in the journal Child Development concludes that being too firm (read: harsh), including yelling, shoving or hitting, and using verbal or physical threats as punishment, negatively impacts academic achievement in high school and college. Bottom line: Children exposed to harsh parenting are at risk of poor school performance.

This longitudinal study of over 1,400 students in a large county in Maryland near Washington, D.C., followed students for more than nine years, beginning in 7th grade and ending three years after the students’ expected graduation.

Students were asked in a questionnaire whether their parents yelled at them, hit them or shoved them, which gave researchers a sense of how much verbal and/or physical aggression they experienced. The kids were also asked about their peer relationships, sexual activity and acts of delinquency.

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The kids who identified that they experienced harsh parenting in 7th grade were more likely to say that their peers were more important to them than following their parents' rules or doing their homework in 9th grade. These same kids were more likely to engage in risky behaviors in 11th grade, including sexual behavior for girls, and hitting and stealing for boys.

[I]t’s essential to tune in to the behavior of our children, no matter their age.

These high-risk students were also more likely to drop out of high school or college.

Researchers did factor out issues such as race, income level, test scores, GPA and parental education level to focus on how harsh parenting styles impact student academic achievement over time.

So what makes harsh parenting have repercussions on grades and academic achievement?

Basically, it causes a disconnect between the parent and the child. When children don’t experience secure attachments with parents, they look outside the family unit for validation. This can cause kids to rely heavily on their peers, even if that entails engaging in risky behaviors to maintain peer group status.

Finding the parenting sweet spot can be tricky. Boundaries and limits are important.

This study is eye-opening for parents in a couple of ways. The first thing to note is that removing verbal and physical aggression from parenting will provide kids with a more secure family environment. In taking this step, parents work to improve their bonds with their children, which will decrease reliance on peers and help kids avoid engaging in those risky behaviors that can negatively impact educational outcome.

A second important factor is that it’s essential to tune in to the behavior of our children, no matter their age. Many adolescents struggle for a variety of reasons, even when harsh parenting isn’t in the mix. In supporting kids through the ups and downs of adolescence, parents can guard kids against making risky choices.

RELATED: Why Discipline Doesn't Really Work on Your Kids

Finding the parenting sweet spot can be tricky. Boundaries and limits are important. They help kids make positive choices. But there is a significant difference between being “firm” and being “harsh.” Parents can balance reactions to their kids by understanding their own triggers, using open and honest communication to discuss expectations. Parents can also benefit from seeking help when they need it.

Creating an emotionally supportive home helps kids thrive within the family—socially, and academically. That’s worth putting in the time to make positive parenting work for your family.

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