Sure you’re steamed. But teenagers tend to meet harsh words with even worse behavior, a study says. (Katherine Streeter)
No matter how much you shout, your teenagers don’t listen.— Ming-Te Wang, University of Pittsburgh
Most parents yell at their kids at some point. It often feels like the last option for getting children to pay attention and shape up.
But harsh verbal discipline may backfire. Teenagers act worse if they’re yelled at, a study finds.
Researchers asked parents of 13-year-olds in the Philadelphia area how often in the past year they’d yelled, cursed or called the kid “dumb or lazy or some other word like that” after he or she had done something wrong.
Almost half of the nearly 900 parents said they used harsh verbal punishment — 45 percent of the moms and 42 percent of the fathers.
The parents who used more harsh words when the child was 13 were more likely to see increases in their teenager’s conduct problems when asked again a year later. And the children who faced high levels of harsh verbal discipline were more likely to have symptoms of depression at age 14.
“No matter how much you shout, your teenagers don’t listen,” saysMing-Te Wang, an assistant professor of psychology and education at the University of Pittsburgh, and lead author of the study. “It makes things worse and worse, and makes the relationships more tense.”
The families in the study were largely middle class, and almost all either white and black. The harsh verbal discipline was evenly distributed across economic levels and ethnicity, Wang told Shots. The results were published online in the journal Child Development.
“It’s a reminder to ourselves that we need to stay calm,” Wang says. “When we yell, it won’t help them stop problem behaviors. Parents need to step back a little bit and calm down.”
In the study, children who had more behavior problems at age 13 were more likely to get yelled at. No surprise there. But the study couldn’t nail down if parental yelling was prompting the bad behavior, or if parents with difficult children are more likely to resort to shouting.
Harsh parenting is often part of a package of behavior and it’s hard to separate out the effects of yelling, says Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center, who wasn’t involved in the study. In addition, some adults are genetically more inclined to screaming and harsh behavior, Kazdin says, and it’s likely that their children will be, too, totally aside from how they’re treated.
Parents shouldn’t panic because they’ve lost it in front of the kids, Kazdin says. “Everyone is going to go off the handle at some point,” he tells Shots. “Presumably Mother Teresa got mad.”
That squares with other studies that find that 90 percent of parents say they’ve yelled at their kids. One study found that half of parents say they’ve cursed at their teenagers or called them names.
The problem with verbal or physical punishment, Kazdin says, is that they are ineffective ways to get people to improve behavior. “People like me are against it because you don’t need it to change behavior.”
The effect of harsh words has been less studied than the effect of physical punishment. Wang’s study is trying to fill in some of the gaps, especially since parents are less likely to use physical punishment with teenagers.
Aggressive physical punishment typically prompts aggression from the child, though considerable controversy exists over whether a small amount of physical punishment in younger children is acceptable.
Kazdin says that less yelling would be one step toward a less toxic family environment: less stress, exposure to violence or direct corporal punishment. Instead, he says, parents should focus on nurturing, family activities and routines.
“What are the effects of yelling to or at your child on this one day and then another one next week?” We really don’t know, Kazdin says. “But we do know that yelling, nagging, hitting, etc., does not strengthen the child to help them handle life.”
Parents can clean up their act, but teenagers can also do their part, realizing that learning how to act more appropriately around their parents can make life much happier for them, Wang says. “We should have some two-way interventions for parents and kids.”
September 10, 2012
When NPR Books invited audience members to nominate and vote for their favorite Young Adult novels, more than 75,000 responded. The extraordinary outpouring speaks of the passion connecting the books section and its followers.
But in that response also lie the seeds of a defect, for lack of a better term, in the poll. The resulting “Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels” included only two books whose protagonists are people of color, which critics called unjust. The two were Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. One of the four heroines in a third book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares, is half Puerto Rican.
As lovely an honor as this is, it also made me sad.
– Author Laurie Halse Anderson
Even one of the selected authors reacted in dismay.
“This just might be the whitest YA list ever,” wrote Laurie Halse Anderson on her personal blog. Two of Anderson’s books, Speak and Wintergirls, made it on the list. Still, she wrote, “As lovely an honor as this is, it also made me sad. And angry and frustrated.”
Much of the criticism was directed at the four white judges, but the censure is misplaced. After speaking with editors and studying the poll, I find that the problem was not the judges, but the nature of the poll and the make-up of the audience. This is not to condemn either—let’s celebrate engagement!—but it does raise a question as to how NPR should protect its editorial integrity when publishing a popularity list that realistically will be taken as NPR’s own and have great influence in schools and sales.
As a reading and English teacher in Minneapolis identified as “Shaker Laurie” wrote:
The problem is not that amazing books about teens of color don’t exist. They do. My kids latch obsessively onto books about teens like them and read them voraciously because adolescents in all their self-involved glory enjoy reading texts that remind them of, well, themselves. Sherman Alexie and Sandra Cisneros certainly deserve their received accolades: The House on Mango Street is a beautifully poetic account of a Latina’s coming of age, and Absolutely True Diary poignantly tells the story of a boy who struggles with life on a reservation and his desire for a strong education. Judith Ortiz Cofer, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, and Matt de la Peña’s work also comes to mind, so when NPR comes along and declares 100 books the “Best-Ever” and leaves nearly every single young adult title written about people of color off the list without caveat or mention, damage is done.
NPR’s audience skews white. The poll result was innocent, normal and natural. If still sad.
The issue with NPR’s audience is that it skews white and mature. As I detailed last year in a report on diversity in NPR, roughly 87 percent of the radio audience was white, compared to 77 of the country’s over-18 population, according to NPR’s Audience, Insight and Research Department. African-Americans and Hispanics are particularly under-represented; Asian Americans are slightly over-represented, but they are a much smaller group.
While there is no profile of the 75,000 voters themselves, they surely reflect this overall audience to a great degree. It thus seems reasonable to me to assume that many of the voters merely selected the books they knew, loved and identified with when they were teens.
The poll result, in other words, was innocent, normal and natural. If still sad.
The good news is that the proportion of non-whites in the NPR audience is growing as the proportion of African-Americans and Hispanics graduating from university in the nation grows. More than two-thirds of NPR’s listeners are college grads. The bad news is that so long as the nation, and especially the universe of college graduates, is overwhelmingly white, then a popularity poll on books is likely to skew in favor of white authors or white protagonists.
The methodology of the poll, moreover, may have further guaranteed a non-diverse result. Readers submitted more than 1,200 titles, a panel of experts narrowed the list to 235 books that they judged were actually eligible, and the audience responded a second time by voting for their top ten. By picking only 10, voters reasonably went for the books they really most loved or identified with, statistically reinforcing the bias of the audience breakdown. The small number left little room for adding books that a reader might think is also good medicine.
I can’t prove this, however. Alternatively, a small group of readers—say, Asian Americans—who all voted for the same Asian-American titles could have disproportionate impact under a top-10 system.
I am passionately committed to reaching out to diverse authors.
– NPR Books Senior Editor Ellen Silva
Of the 235 finalists, my assistant, Lori Grisham, found at least four more that had diverse heroes and heroines, which still isn’t very many. These included American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; The First Part Last by Angela Johnson; Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper; and Sold by Patricia McCormick.
It is understandable that some listeners blamed the panelists. The three women and a man—Pamela Paul, Diane Roback, Tasha Robinson, Ted Schelvan—are white. And as Linda Sue Park, a children’s fiction author and winner of a Newbery Medal, wrote on her blog:
I have tremendous respect for the panel that narrowed the list; I have worked with some of them personally. But if NPR had been serious about that ‘very best’ label—as opposed to ‘very best if you’re white, educated, and middle-class’—it should have attempted a vital corrective by selecting a panel that included at least one person of color.
But while we as a nation are not at a point yet where we can ignore concerns with diversity, the panelists in fact had little power over the selection. Their race didn’t much matter. As Joe Matazzoni, Senior Supervising Producer of the Arts & Life section of NPR.org, explained in a considered response to me:
The panelists are all experts in the field but none this year, as far as I know, are persons of color. This will be something we will certainly remedy in future polls. I’ll caution, however, the panel’s influence on the outcome is limited.
It’s important to understand that, for the most part, the panelists are more like line umpires at a tennis match than judges of a beauty contest. Which is to say, they don’t pick the finalists or the winners. In the vast majority of cases, the books that make it to the final voting are the books that received the most nominations from the audience. The panel’s job is to rule out the titles that, in their estimation, fall outside the boundaries of the category — be it science fiction, thrillers, or, this year, young-adult fiction.
This year, as in years past, we allowed the panelists to include up to two of their own favorite books in the voting roster — as a courtesy to thank them for their service. Some of them took us up on the offer. But, to paraphrase an old saying, you can lead a reader to works of literary merit, but you can’t make her vote for them. As in years past, when the voting came around, the audience ignored the “editor’s picks”; none made the top 100.
[Matazzoni’s full response is posted below.]
The books section does, in fact, go to great lengths to cast a wide diversity net in its everyday coverage and features. Supervising Editor Ellen Silva provided these examples from books series over the past eight months:
You Must Read This:Gabrielle Zevin, Pablo Medina, Manuel Munoz, Jesmyn Ward, Roya Hakakian, Alex Gilvarry
My Guilty Pleasure:Krishnadev Calamur
Three Books: Diana Lopez, Lin Noueihed, Hosam Aboul-Ela, Lysley Tenorio, Tim Wu, Alex Gilvarry, Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa
PG-13: Risky Reads: Victor LaValle, Jesmyn Ward
In the hopper:Tahereh Mafi, Abraham Verghese, Joy Castro, Ruben Martinez, Alberto Manguel, Rajesh Parameswaran
In addition, the newspoet series on All Things Considered featured Tracy K. Smith, Kevin Young, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Paisley Rekdal, and Monica Youn. The Morning Edition poetry games series included winner Mbali Vilakazi, Monica de la Torre, Kazim Ali, and Ouyang Yu.
“I am passionately committed to reaching out to diverse authors,” Silva wrote. “It is an essential part of my leadership role at NPR Books.”
So, what should NPR do with its book poll? Matazzoni offered this consideration:
A few people have suggested that we shouldn’t call the top-100 the “best-ever” books, since a popularity contest doesn’t determine quality. It’s a fair point. We picked that title this year to suggest breathless, teen-aged enthusiasm. Also, the lists of recommended books on the NPR Books site are usually restricted to new works, so the title is meant to indicate that the novels on this list come from all periods.
And he made this invitation for even more engagement with you, the audience, to find a solution:
Our job at NPR Books is to find great books for our audience to read. Audience polls are one way of doing this – a way that complements the reviews, interviews, commentaries and other stories that we assign and which more fully express the editorial judgment of the NPR Books team. Finding ways to tap that audience wisdom while not creating an experience that makes some feel excluded will be a challenge, but it’s one we accept. I invite your readers to offer their suggestions.
NPR Books staff have also discussed simultaneously publishing two lists—the popularity poll and one selected by experts. I think that is a good idea. This offers the added fun of comparing and debating the two. No one panel, after all, can lay claim to the truth, so we can additionally fight over throwing the bums out.
But you may have better ideas. Please take up Matazzoni on his invitation. He and his staff are genuine in their request.
Assistant to the ombudsman Lori Grisham contributed to this report.