parents yellingAll teens will test limits. It’s a natural part of being a teenager and important for development, but how we as parents, respond, can have a significant impact on behavior. It is not surprising that yelling often accomplishes nothing, but a new study has found evidence to support the idea that yelling can have long-term harmful consequences.

A psychologist in Pittsburgh looked at nearly 1000 middle class 2-parent families with teens in middle school. They asked teens and parents about problem behaviors, such as lying, stealing, and fighting and then asked about parent reactions of yelling, insulting, and cursing. The researcher found that teens whose parents yelled, cursed, or slung insults like ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’ had teens who then had worsening problem behaviors. Even though the parents were acting out of frustration and the yelling was due to their love of their children, it still had a negative impact. When parents were loving, that didn’t negate the effects of the yelling.

When I think about the results, they make sense. Being insulted, demeaned, or cursed at would make anyone feel down, worthless, or angry. Instead of inspiring someone to stop the behavior that incited the yelling, it would make one act out even more. On the other hand, being told in a respectful way that their behavior had negative side effects or put them at risk is more likely to make them stop and think about what they did. So what can parents do instead of yelling?

1. Calmly discuss your rationale for being upset. Telling your teen that you’re upset/disappointed in their behavior because it put them at risk for injury or because it caused pain to someone else is likely to make more of an impact that yelling at them to stop. See our post on Ground Rules for ideas on how to think about rules at home.

2. Talk about consequences ahead of time. When you and your teen are calm talk about what consequences will happen if they break a rule. For example, if they stay out past curfew, explain why the curfew is in place (you need enough sleep to concentrate in school) and discuss what will happen if they break curfew. Let your teen have a bit of input. They’ll remember the consequence and you’ll both know what’s coming if the rule is broken. Of course, you’re the parent and have the final say, but your teen will probably be less likely to lie, yell, or put up much fuss if they were the one to determine the consequences (I can’t guarantee they won’t try to negotiate out of it though!).

3. Consider this: when your teen talks back, this can actually be an opportunity to teach them the art of persuasion. As I said earlier, teens are going to push limits. This can be in the form of talking back or arguing with their parents. Instead of arguing and yelling along with your teen, use this as a chance to teach them effective communication skills! I know it’s hard in the heat of the moment, but talk with them calmly, ask why they’re upset. This forces them to think through their argument and give rationale. Again, you as the parent don’t have to agree and I’d encourage your to be consistent and stick with your rules, but treating your teen with respect shows that you value what they have to say and how they feel. This also gives them practice in the art of persuasion which will serve them well later in life as they negotiate everything from buying a first car to a baseline employment salary.

4. If you feel out of control, it’s probably not a good time to try to discipline your teen. Give yourself a moment to calm down before saying something hurtful. See our post on How to Discipline a teen.