Weather Updates

Study: Yelling at teens makes them depressed

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau yells as he looks for traveling call 2012 game United Center. File Pho| TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau yells as he looks for a traveling call in a 2012 game at the United Center. File Photo | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times photo

storyidforme: 54534216
tmspicid: 9786081
fileheaderid: 4496225

Updated: October 7, 2013 12:39PM

Four years ago, when Elaine Kilgore’s son’s grades took a dive at Dunbar Vocational Career Academy on the South Side, she could have yelled at him, but instead took away his Xbox game console and yanked him from the basketball team.

“To me, yelling doesn’t work because words can hurt,” said Kilgore, 49, who lives on the South Side and whose son is now in his third year of college.

A newly released study dealing with parents who scream at or insult misbehaving teens suggest Kilgore might be right.

The study, published in this month’s edition of the journal Child Development, found that parents who yell at their teens not only fail to stop bad behavior, but may also contribute to adolescent depression.

“It’s a tough call for parents,” said study co-author Ming-Te Wang, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. “We know that sometimes we lose our patience. Based on our study, it reminds us that parents need to calm down. They need to know that yelling, shouting at a child, cannot really help good behavior or even reduce problem behavior. We need to communicate with (teenagers) and let them know why it is wrong.”

The study looked at 976 Pennsylvania middle schoolers, using questionaires to track changes in behavior during a two-year period. The children of parents who frequently used harsh language had increased behavioral problems and were more likely to have symptoms of depression, according to the study.

Wang said the study is among the first of its kind to focus solely on the effects of verbal discipline. The participants were all either black or white, and there were no significant differences in the results for the two groups, Wang said.

Kilgore said she’s thankful that, on the whole, her son, now 21, and daughter, who is 18, were both “very well-behaved, mannerable teenagers.”

Like any parent, she’s resorted to yelling at her kids, but with mixed results.

“I take away things they enjoy — that gets a better response,” Kilgore said.


Twitter: @slesposito

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.