- Researchers in the US and Great Britain studied the impact of verbal abuse on children
- They found that this could lead to depression, anger, drug use, crime and obesity
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Children who are frequently yelled at by adults can suffer the same lifelong consequences as children who have been physically and sexually abused.
Researchers from North Carolina and Britain looked at more than 160 studies on verbal abuse and child development and found that yelling and verbal abuse from adults, such as parents, coaches and teachers, can be just as harmful to children as forms of physical abuse. and emotional abuse. .
This form of child abuse can cause children to suffer from depression, substance abuse, obesity and crime.
There are currently four categories of child abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse – which also includes verbal abuse – and neglect. And while rates of physical and sexual abuse have decreased, rates of emotional abuse have increased.
Based on their findings, the team suggested that childhood verbal abuse be put into its own category because it is more “overt” than other forms of emotional abuse, including indifference, the silent treatment and the child witnessing domestic violence .
Dr. Shanta Dube, lead author of the study and director of Wingate University’s Master of Public Health program in North Carolina, said: ‘Verbal abuse in childhood needs to be urgently recognized as a subtype of abuse because of its lifelong negative consequences.’
Researchers found that 76.5 percent of childhood verbal abusers were parents, 2.4 percent were other caregivers in the home, and 12.7 percent were teachers. Other adults mentioned were coaches (0.6 percent) and police (0.6 percent)
Researchers reviewed 166 studies conducted between 1976 and 2022 on verbal abuse and development in children between the ages of six months and 17 years. They found that this type of abuse usually came from parents – especially mothers – and teachers.
They found that 76.5 percent of childhood verbal abusers were parents, 2.4 percent were other caregivers in the home, and 12.7 percent were teachers. Other adults mentioned were coaches (0.6 percent) and police (0.6 percent).
Common features of verbal abuse included yelling, screaming, shouting, swearing, and scolding the child.
The study found that children exposed to this type of abuse may become depressed or angry, commit crimes, commit substance abuse, become abusive themselves, commit self-harm, or develop chronic diseases such as obesity and lung cancer due to alcohol problems.
Jessica Bondy, founder of children’s charity Words Matter, says: ‘All adults get overloaded and sometimes say things unintentionally.
“We must work collectively on ways to recognize these actions and end childhood verbal abuse by adults so that children can thrive.
‘It is of utmost importance to understand the true extent and impact of verbal abuse in childhood.
‘Words have weight. They can uplift or destroy. Let’s build children up, not tear them down.’
The team noted that more research is needed to find out which specific age groups are most affected by this type of behavior.
“We have seen tremendous progress in raising awareness and interventions targeting perpetrators of physical and sexual abuse, which has led to a reduction in these forms of abuse,” Dr Dube said.
‘If we focus on ‘verbal abuse’ by perpetrators rather than just ’emotional abuse’ among victims, we can develop similar actions to prevent childhood verbal abuse and its consequences.
‘Breaking the intergenerational cycles starts with adults.’
The research was commissioned by the British children’s organization Words Matter and carried out by researchers from Wingate University and University College London (UCL). It appeared in the magazine this week Child abuse and neglect.