If You're Too Harsh a Parent, Your Kid May Suffer, Health-Wise, Down the Line

I admit it, I'm a pushover for a parent.

Fortunately, I got a good kid in the lottery (at least, most of the time), so I've rarely had to discipline him (well, unless you call locking him in his room when he was little and misbehaved, but then I went in my room and cried).  Both my husband and I came from families with very harsh parents and now a new study is saying the harsher you are, the more likely your kid will grow up to maybe not be in such great health, and could become obese, as well.

New research shows harsh parenting may increase a child’s risk for poor physical health and obesity as they get olde, according to newswise.com. And attempts by one parent to counterbalance the harsh behavior are not always effective in lessening that risk. 

Researchers found the link from harsh parenting to physical health is buffered by a warm and nurturing coparent. However, when they measured the effect on body mass index, the health risk of harsh parenting increased as warmth from the other parent increased.

 “Harshness leads to problems with physical health, and no matter how hard a spouse tries they may not be able to erase those effects,” researchers say. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m the law and my wife is the gospel’ or something like that, better to acknowledge that in terms of harshness, your spouse is not going to be a buffer for the child, so behave responsibly.”

Both Larry and I had mothers that pretty much just stayed out of the picture when our fathers went wild.  So we didn't really have the "good cop" to balance out the "bad cop."

Harsh parenting was defined in the study as parents who reject, coerce, are physically aggressive and are self-centered. No parent in this sample was observed hitting their adolescent, but Thomas Schofield, lead author and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, says there were other signs of physical aggression, such as pinching and pushing.

Schofield says harsh parenting creates a chronic stressful environment that children can be exposed to for nearly two decades. This exposure can have a lasting effect on the developing brain during childhood and early adolescence, he adds. Other research shows there are negative biological responses – chronic release of hormones, inflammation and lower cardiovascular reactivity – that can result from chronic stress.

Most parents want what’s best for their child and may not recognize or think their behavior is overly harsh. Their parenting skills often reflect how they were raised, Schofield says. The average person wants to believe their parents’ behavior – even if it was harsh or aggressive – was for their own good or at the very least benign. Schofield says this belief makes it hard for some parents to change harsh behavior, such as spanking or extreme timeouts.

“We’re fighting against that emotional connection to our own caregiver, who parented us that way,” Schofield says. “If we accept that the behavior is damaging, we have to accept that our parent who loved us did something that may have been bad for us. It’s not a complicated idea, but there’s just too much emotion in the way.”

Larry and I both have struggled hard not to repeat the type of parenting we had growing up.  Maybe that's partly why I'm such a (relatively) easy-going parent.  But as I said, I've been lucky.  I was blessed with a child who pretty much does what he's told, gets his homework done on time and now that he's a teen, shows good judgment most of the time.  So maybe it's been okay that I'm lazy!


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