The most e-mailed article on the New York Times website yesterday was “For Some Parents, Shouting is the New Spanking”. Like most trend pieces in the Thursday Style section, it’s heavy on the generalization and aimed squarely at the Times‘s readership of affluent white helicopter parents. According to reporter Hilary Stout:
…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.
That behavior may be the norm in affluent, Times-reading enclaves, but it’s certainly not how a whole generation of Americans parent their children. Besides, parents have been yelling at their kids since time immemorial–that’s hardly new news. In classic Times-ian fashion, Stout starts out by pouring it on thick with the generalizing, then blithely assumes her own generalizations are facts worthy of reportage.
It’s also significant that 100% of the parents quoted in the article are moms, and they all feel guilty about yelling at their kids. Is this because only moms yell? Or only moms should feel guilty about yelling? Do dads get to indulge in guilt-free yelling? We may never know–dads were apparently not interviewed, nor were parents who yell without guilt. It was your typically poorly researched, un-nuanced Times trend piece–a sweeping generalization that’s really just a narrow view for a narrow readership.
I grew up in a highly educated, affluent white family–although we were loyal to the Washington Post, not the Times–but my parents did not helicopter me to death, and they definitely were not of the so-called “generation that yells.” MamaSharper believed in the “loving disciplinarian” approach, both with the two kids she raised and the thousands she educated. She didn’t have to scream–a tone change and glare was almost always enough to snap us back into line (on very rare occasions, she might also deploy a swat on the bottom, but always without yelling). BigStepdaddy yelled at us maybe once or twice. Each time it was so unusual–and so LOUD–that my sister and I automatically burst into tears, which immediately made him feel terrible.
At my other home–DaddySharper’s house–there was also not much shouting, even when dealing with my three little brothers. While I understand that powder-keg, flash of white-hot fury that bratty kids can cause–believe me, I understand it–it doesn’t always mean one will wind up melting down like the guilt-ridden yuppies the article describes. My parents didn’t express anger or frustration by shouting, so neither did we.
My family seems to be the exception, though. My childhood friends were all yelled at–particularly my non-white friends, who came from cultures where parental authority is strongly, and loudly, enforced. Even in my own family, my cousin–a devoted SAHM– has told me more than once that she struggles not to shout at her (usually very well-behaved) daughters. Still, she does it more often than she’d like and feels guilty about it. She blames her upbringing for her tendency to shout: “My dad used to yell at us all the time, and when I yell at my girls, I can almost hear my dad in my head. I was yelled at as a kid, so I yell at my kids. I hate it.”
According to the Times:
Psychologists and psychiatrists generally say yelling should be avoided. It’s at best ineffective (the more you do it the more the child tunes it out) and at worse damaging to a child’s sense of well-being and self-esteem.
“We are so accustomed to this that we just think parents get carried away and that it’s not harmful,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Murray A. Straus, a sociologist who is a director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. “But it affects a child. If someone yelled at you at work, you’d find that pretty jarring. We don’t apply that standard to children.”
Having been raised in a no-yell environment, I didn’t learn to tune it out, and now as an adult, yellling instantly evokes a strong negative reaction in me. I always perceive yelling as hostile and aggressive, and it immediately triggers my fight-or-flight response.
When I first worked for the boss from hell, her frequent shrieking totally threw me for a loop. I was stunned. WTF? Couldn’t she control herself? When she yelled at me, I shut down. It wasn’t that I was intimidated, I simply was not having any of it. I gave her the icy cold stare of death and, once just walked out of the room. I didn’t care that she signed my paycheck. If my mother didn’t yell at me, this bitch damn sure wasn’t going to have the privilege. It was a textbook hostile workplace, and I didn’t stick around for long.
It irritates me that the Times article skates around the obvious fact that habitual yelling creates a toxic environment, and is often a form of psychological abuse. Parents inflict it on children, spouses inflict it on one another. It’s always felt wrong to me. To be fair, some people are just loud by nature and yell excitedly about everything. I tend not to seek out those people, but I’ve learned to recalibrate my responses to them so I don’t cringe when they up the volume.
Despite all its quotes from shrinks and child experts, the author of the Times piece doesn’t conclude that we shouldn’t yell at children. But I can testify that not yelling teaches children how to handle situations without losing control. If you model calm and restraint for your kids, they will be calmer and better behaved. If this sounds suspiciously Zen, believe me, I’m about the least Zen person you’ll meet. But reading this article reminded me again that my parents did me a huge favor by not yelling at me. I’m convinced that because of it, I have better self-control, and kinder, healthier interpersonal relationships. I also think it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever be part of “the generation that yells.”