child, abuse, verbal, physical, sexual, parents, health

New Study Warns Parents That Verbal Abuse May Be As Detrimental To Children As Physical, Sexual Abuse 

A new study may have parents thinking twice before they sound off at their kids. 

The study, published in Child Abuse & Neglect, informed people of the implications of verbally threatening children. Researchers found verbal threats may be as detrimental as sexual or physical abuse to a developing child.

Words Matter, a British charity that seeks to improve children’s health by ending verbal abuse, commissioned the research. Researchers at Wingate University in North Carolina and University College London conducted the study. The literature review analyzed 166 articles to support the claims regarding the effects of verbal abuse on a child’s development. 

According to the study, there are four categories of child maltreatment: physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. Verbal abuse, which includes shouting, yelling, and verbal threats, falls within the scope of emotional abuse. In the study, child abuse was placed in its own category. Of all the other forms of emotional abuse, such as silent treatment, indifference, and observing domestic violence, verbal abuse was classified as a more “overt” form that “warrants special attention.”

“Childhood verbal abuse desperately needs to be acknowledged as an abuse subtype because of the lifelong negative consequences,” said Professor Shanta Dube, the study’s lead author and director of the Master of Public Health Program at Wingate University, CNN reported.

The study assessed the various effects of shouting by authority figures on children. Researchers examined shouting from parents, teachers, and coaches, concluding that these effects on children may display as depression, anger, committing crimes, substance use, or committing abuse. It may also result in detrimental health outcomes such as developing obesity or lung disease.

The founder of Words Matter, Jessica Bondy, emphasized the need to understand “the true scale and impact of childhood verbal abuse.”

“All adults get overloaded sometimes and say things unintentionally,” Bondy said. “We have to work collectively to devise ways to recognize these actions and end childhood verbal abuse by adults so children can flourish.”

According to the new research, there appears to be a shift in childhood abuse. The research cites sources such as the World Health Organization 2014 and four more studies to show that childhood emotional abuse has increased, while there’s been a decrease in physical and sexual abuse. In 2019, Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin who also researches parent discipline, discussed the importance of avoiding critiques when yelling. She also encouraged parents to consider who they are yelling at. Toddlers may sense frustration and not the meaning of the yell, while an older child will have a different interpretation and response.  

The Words Matter site provides resources to motivate parents to consider the words they use before expressing them to their child and on how to mend the relationship with their child if a hurtful comment has been made. The website also seeks to help parents stop using insults and name-calling.