Many of those new to parenting today are Millennials, also known as the generation who grew up with harsh discipline. That's us. Many from our generation have seen the negative effects of such a style of parenting that we promised ourselves not to parent our children the same way.
But at the same time, a few of us see the merit in such a style. There is truth in the fact that without being subjected to harsh discipline, we all wouldn't have toughened up and become the thick skins we are today.
While that is true, one thing does remain, and all of us Millennials are proof of it. We are proof that harsh discipline comes with heavy consequences. It's the reason our generation is called the Therapy Generation. It's because we experienced so much internalised trauma that the whole world has woken up to the fact the importance of mental health.
Also, it's no longer just our collective nods as a generation that are validating this truth. The University of Cambridge and University College Dublin collaborated to study over 7,500 children in Ireland to learn about the effects of harsh discipline. And, their findings are both concerning and enlightening:
First: What is Harsh Discipline or Hostile Parenting?
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For clarity, let's define this concept first. What is hostile parenting? Would hitting a child be considered hostile parenting? How about verbal abuse? Is that harsh discipline?
According to the authors of this study, Ioannis Katsantonis of the University of Cambridge and Jennifer Symonds of the UCD School of Education, harsh discipline can be done through both physical and psychological means. So, yes, other forms of harsh discipline are hitting and verbal abuse.
But, those are more obvious signs. Some forms of hostile parenting can be subtle but deadly. Isolating children when they misbehave is one. Giving them back-handed compliments is another. Some might even argue that parents comparing children to their siblings is potentially damaging to a child's self-esteem.
With this in mind, we as parents need to be more careful where we step when it comes to disciplining our children.
1 in 10 Children Exposed to Harsh Parenting Is at Risk of Mental Health Problems
Let's now get to the most daunting fact of the study. The researchers based their study on 7,507 participants in the 'Growing up in Ireland' longitudinal study of children and young people. They used 1 standardised assessment to gather the participants' mental health data. Then, they used a second standardised assessment to learn the parenting styles of these participants' parents at 3.
What are the findings? One in 10 children at age 3 are high-risk with the potential to get worse at age nine. That is how likely your child can develop mental health problems if you discipline them using harsh means.
The study is also able to confirm the hypothesis of previous studies. One of which is that girls and children from single-parent households are more likely to belong to the high-risk group.
These findings are daunting enough for Millennial parents and the next generation of parents to be more conscious of how they discipline their children.
In fact, this is more than a daunting figure. It's a wake-up call that parents from this generation and onward will be awake forever for.
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Parenting Style Is Not the Only Factor but It's A Strong One
Researchers of this study claim that there are other factors contributing to the mental health outcome of kids. Some of these could be physical health, some may be due to gender, and some may be through socioeconomic status. But that's not to say that the impact of these parenting styles will only have a mild impact on these kids' mental health.
Katsantonis says that "[t]he fact that one in 10 children were in the high-risk category for mental health problems is a concern and we ought to be aware of the part parenting may play in that."
So, what's the advice? Katsantonis emphasises that he is not suggesting that parents be light-handed with their kids. There is still the need to discipline. The key is to not go over the line between disciplining and hostile parenting.
Symonds agrees and advises parents to prevent hostile emotional climates at home. She says that caring for this climate at home might not altogether prevent undesirable mental health outcomes, but it just might help.
About Time We Get Some Good Guidance
Acknowledging our role as parents in our children's mental health is only half the battle. The other half is disciplining our children with their mental health in mind.
Researchers suggest pulling out all the guns from years of research on parenting tips that will prevent undesirable mental health outcomes in our children. Lucky for us, a world of information is at our fingertips. A few taps on our phones can lead us to a mountain of tried and tested techniques to better discipline our children.
To learn all by ourselves might not be enough though. Katsantonis emphasised the importance of resources and giving us parents tailored support on how we can usher our kids towards ideal mental health outcomes. He says,
"Appropriate support could be something as simple as giving new parents clear, up-to-date information about how best to manage young children's behaviour in different situations."
Apart from such support for parents, experts of this study caution mental health professionals, teachers, and practitioners to be more alert to children exhibiting poor mental health symptoms. In doing so, these individuals may be able to intervene and provide these children with better chances at a healthier mental state.
Enter the Era of Gentle Parenting
The response of many experts to the negative impacts of hostile parenting is to recommend gentle parenting. You may have heard of this concept already and may have already started using it on your children.
And, though many parents today have seen the positive impacts of such a style, it is not without negative impressions. Some parents feel that gentle parenting might turn their children entitled and "soft" once they enter the real world.
A possible reason some parents have this impression is that they might not have an accurate understanding of what gentle parenting is. So, for the sake of clarity, let's define. What is gentle parenting?
This parenting style is different from other styles for three reasons. For one, parents teach children to make choices based on their internal willingness to versus external pressures. Secondly, it encourages age-appropriate discipline. And, finally, the goal of this style is to raise happy, independent, and confident children.
A huge chunk of the principle behind gentle parenting is rooted in the concept of authoritative parenting which is said to be the most ideal parenting style of the 4 kinds (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful).
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Based on this definition, parents can now more clearly see the positive impacts of this style. It's also unlikely children will turn out to be entitled individuals in the future. That's because the core concepts of this style are empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.
From a world where we grew up flinching at the sound of "no" from our parents, let's all do better for our kids. Let's break the cycle of hostile parenting and be more mindful of how our disciplining can affect their mental health. That cycle ends here. Here's to raising happier and more secure children.
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