Shouting is the new spanking

For would-be perfect parents, shouting is the new spanking, reports the New York Times.

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.

I once had to fill out a long form to sign up my daughter for one lousy week of summer child care. I was asked what I did when my child misbehaved. I knew “give a time out” was the correct answer, but in a fit of honesty I wrote: “I yell.”

Let’s get real, folks. Parents yell sometimes. And kids are warped for life, but you’ve got to warp them one  way or another.

About Joanne


  1. Generally self-discipline is a good thing. Restraining ourselves, maintaining control and not yelling are to be encouraged and commended. But, honesty is also a good thing. Sometimes yelling to express real anger and frustration lets the person your dealing with understand the importance of the situation. Pretending that you’re all patience when you’re really about to internally combust is not helpful or healthful. Moderation in all things.

  2. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Other parents think I’m weird b/c I’ve told my kids that if they run in front of an 18-wheeler, it will hit them and THEY WILL DIE.

    Apparently, this is a harsh and traumatic thing to say to kids.

    On the other hand, my kids don’t jaywalk or run into traffic, because they don’t want to die….. so I feel like it’s a win.

    Some trauma, if it’s honest trauma, can be GOOD trauma. (The folks who think I’m weird also have to snatch their kids out of traffic….)

    So yes, all kids are going to be warped— but you can at least try to warp them constructively…..

  3. My parents often resorted to a very common form of Korean punishment, where I would have to kneel on the ground and keep my arms raised straight above my head. Basically like a time out, only with more physical discomfort involved. I think I might use it with my own currently non-existent kids, but I wonder if others would think that it qualifies as child abuse. I know a few people who think that any punishment meant to cause physical discomfort is abuse. Don’t know if I’d agree.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    What did your parents do when you refused?

  5. If you shout a great deal, it won’t be effective. The kids will expect you to shout. If you don’t generally shout, shouting allows them to gauge your emotions.

    On the other hand, why are there 344 comments in the Times about what is a relatively minor aspect of life, namely, that exasperated parents sometimes shout? There wasn’t even a half-baked study about the relative value of shouting as a child-raising tactic, and yet in the second comment, someone was willing to dub it “emotional abuse.” Please. Don’t these people have anything more interesting to do?

    Shout. Or don’t shout. Just don’t get tied up in knots about it.

  6. Yelling doesn’t bother me. It’s the parents that use four-letter words and describe their children as “little sh**s” and tell them that they’re worthless trash that bother me.

    Unfortunately, seeing that is not an uncommon event at the local grocery. I try not to judge (maybe parent is just having a really awful day), but it seems telling a 7 year old that they are “sh**” isn’t particularly useful.

    My parents used to tell me stuff like running out into the road could get me killed. Didn’t seem to traumatize me very much, at least not as I remember. And it kept me from running into the road.

  7. Devilbunny says:

    I’m with Richard. Time-out is fairly easily enforced – you can force a child to stay in one place and one hard week of putting down every petty rebellion seems generally to be the recommendation – but how do you deal with one who won’t do that?

  8. Bill Leonard says:

    We both spanked and shouted on occasion. There were times when the kids had it coming, i.e., the transgression merited it — and often, such was the case. So what?

    Both adult children are college graduates, one has an MBA and is the national product manager of a nationally known pharmaceutical in both prescription and non-prescription versions; the other, with a degree in economics, is a residential and commercial underwriter for a conservative lending (i.e., not in trouble with any of its loans) bank in San Francisco. Both are, like their parents, conservative Republicans — free marketers, and all that imples. And while I am retired, both make more money per year than I or their mother ever did.

    There is much, much more to parenting than how one disciplines in trying circumstances, or whether one shouts or spanks.

    And no, we were not abusive parents. But we were involved parents.

  9. My mom once told me that she used to pray every night that God would help her not to yell at us the next day. And by 9 am she was always yelling at someone. She felt very guilty about this. I just had to laugh because of all the things that went on in our house growing up, mom yelling didn’t even rate notice (which was probably why she was yelling all the time anyhow). I think that if you are being really nasty when you yell or your yelling demonstrates a lack of self control that your children will follow, then yelling is bad. But by and large, it’s pretty harmless. Not really effective, of course. But in the scheme of things, if your kid winds up in therapy one day crying that mommy yelled at him for not keeping his room clean, then something has gone seriously wrong that has nothing to do with yelling!

    The people who are driving me nuts that we will (unfortunately) be hearing more about soon are those who insist that any sort of coercive discipline should be considered out of bounds. This means time-outs, withdrawal of privileges, or ever forcing the child to do something they are unwilling to do on their own. In this line of thinking, kids misbehave because of underlying unmet needs or fears or whatever. So the way to deal with bad behavior is to address the underlying issue so that the child will gladly self-correct his/her behavior. I’m all for being aware of underlying issues that may be driving poor behavior, but quite often the root cause is poor impulse control, selfishness or some other none too attractive issue that needs to be confronted and dealt with.

  10. With little kids, a swat on the butt lasts a minute. But yelling at them is like yelling at a pet. They don’t hear the words but they remember the scary face and the loudness and the tone.

    I wonder about these tightly wound parents who reason and reason and cajole and plead and explode.

    Kids misbehave not from deeply seated problems but from a curiosity to see what will happen.

  11. Thanks Joanne! I yell sometimes too!

  12. Deirdre Mundy says:

    >I wonder about these tightly wound parents who reason and >reason and cajole and plead and explode.

    Good point, Kate. I usually don’t yell at my kids unless there’s mortal peril involved –or if I’m down in the laundry room and need my voice to carry…… BUT I also believe in time-outs/lost privaledges the FIRST time they do something that wears on my patience… so things don’t reach the yelling-level of frustration.

    I think many parents don’t want to crack down on annoying behaviors UNTIL they’re going crazy. Which makes sense–cracking down is exhausting–but it saves you trouble down the line.

    Devil Bunny – For kids who won’t stay in time out, you have to hold them, or monitor them. The point of time-out is that it’s not fun. For some offenses, we also have ‘quiet time’– as in 1/2 hour in your room, after that, you may come out once you’re quiet and calm. Of course, I have younger kids, so some of the spazzes aren’t misbehavior as much as overwhelmed exhaustion– so ‘quiet time’ fixes things.

    For out-and-out bad behavior, they also lose all screen time (TV, Wii, computer) for a day. It’s nice to make sure your kids have some things you don’t mind taking away. Even nicer when you have more than one kid, so the one who loses dessert has to live with the fact that the others still get it.

    Basically, once the kids KNOW that you don’t make threats, only promises, they behave better most of the time….

    Oh, and avoid empty threats at all costs. If you threaten to take away Saturday’s soccer game, DO IT. It may hurt you, but it’s more important to send the right message to your kid…..

  13. Unfortunately, the current climate can work against parents. One example is the mom who was arrested for carrying her full-tantrum 2-year-old out of a store by the overall straps. It didn’t hurt the kid at all and it is impossible to reason with a toddler in full-tantrum mode. Even more unfortunately, kids soon learn that they can not/will not be disciplined in public. I am glad that I was raising kids in a climate that tolerated public scolding, an attention-getting swat on the diaper, followed by swift removal, if necessary. The kids learned pretty early what the limits of acceptable public behavior were and stayed within them.

  14. One example is the mom who was arrested for carrying her full-tantrum 2-year-old out of a store by the overall straps.

    If that is considered child abuse, I wonder if I need to watch out. I’ve been known to sling a toddler having a hissy fit over my shoulders saying “sack of potatoes” while taking him/her out. Usually, that gets the child giggling but not always. Is some busybody going to call CPS on me next?

  15. Deirdre Mundy says:

    CW– it probably depends what state you live in— some allow random anonymous reporting, others don’t.

    The people I feel sorry for are the ones with really BIG toddlers. It’s a lot harder to discipline a two-year-old if you can’t easily remove him from problem situations!

  16. Don Bemont says:

    It seems to me that the question is not whether you spank or don’t spank, yell or don’t yell, etc.

    It’s all in the context. Stressed parents have this way of trying to “settle this once and for all” — a kind of shortcut to consistent parenting. The message becomes not, “I love you, but insist on this” but rather “I’m busy and intend to make this so memorable you’ll never even think of inconveniencing me again.”

    Swats, words, or punishments delivered in the latter spirit are unwise, regardless of legalities.


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