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Parents: Being angry or shouting at children repeatedly can affect their brain



How ‘harsh parents’ can affect the child’s BRAIN: Getting angry, hitting or shouting at children can shrink neural regions associated with anxiety and depression, the study warns

  • Researchers analyzed parenting practices and took brain scans of children aged 2-9 years
  • Those exposed to ‘tough parents’ had smaller amygdala and prefrontal cortex
  • These brain structures play a key role in emotional regulation and anxiety
  • Researchers hope the findings will encourage parents to take less tough action when interacting with their children

Getting angry, hitting, shaking or yelling at your child can affect brain structure in adolescence, a new study has warned.

Researchers found that children raised with “harsh parents” developed smaller prefrontal cortex and amygdala – two brain structures that play a key role in emotional regulation and the emergence of anxiety and depression.

Worryingly, these harsh parenting practices are common, and generally considered socially acceptable worldwide, according to the team.

The researchers hope the findings will encourage parents to take less tough action when interacting with their children.

Repeatedly getting angry, hitting, shaking or shouting at your child can affect the brain structure in adolescence, a new study has warned (archive photo)

Repeatedly getting angry, hitting, shaking or shouting at your child can affect the brain structure in adolescence, a new study has warned (archive photo)

What areas of the brain are affected?

The team used data from children who had been monitored at CHU Saint-Justine Hospital since they were born there in the early 2000s.

Parental practice, children’s anxiety level and brain scan were evaluated annually while the children were between the ages of two and nine.

Worryingly, the results showed that children exposed to higher levels of hard parenting developed smaller prefrontal cortex and amygdala – two brain structures known to play a key role in emotional regulation, and the emergence of anxiety and depression.

In the study, researchers from the University of Montreal and Stanford University aimed to look at the effect of hard parenting on children’s brains.

Dr Sabrina Suffren, who led the study, said: ‘The implications go beyond changes in the brain.

‘I think what is important is that parents and society understand that the frequent use of harsh parenting practices can harm the child’s development.

‘We talk about their social and emotional development, as well as the development of the brain.’

The team used data from children who had been monitored at CHU Saint-Justine Hospital since they were born there in the early 2000s.

Parental practice, children’s anxiety level and brain scan were evaluated annually while the children were between the ages of two and nine.

Worryingly, the results showed that children exposed to higher levels of hard parenting developed smaller prefrontal cortex and amygdala – two brain structures known to play a key role in emotional regulation, and the emergence of anxiety and depression.

Dr Suffren explained: ‘These findings are both important and new.

Worryingly, the results showed that children exposed to higher levels of hard parenting developed smaller prefrontal cortex and amygdala - two brain structures known to play a key role in emotional regulation, and the emergence of anxiety and depression

Worryingly, the results showed that children exposed to higher levels of hard parenting developed smaller prefrontal cortex and amygdala – two brain structures known to play a key role in emotional regulation, and the emergence of anxiety and depression

‘This is the first time that hard parents who do not come to serious abuse have been linked to reduced brain structure size, similar to what we see in victims of serious abuse.’

The researchers hope their findings will encourage parents to implement less serious parenting strategies in the future.

In the UK, it is illegal for parents or carers to slap their child, except where this constitutes a “reasonable punishment”.

Child Law Advice explained: ‘Whether a “smack” constitutes a reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case, taking into account factors such as the child’s age and taste.

‘There are strict guidelines that cover the use of reasonable punishment, and it will not be possible to trust the defense if you use severe physical punishment against your child that corresponds to wounds, actual bodily injury, serious bodily injury or child abuse.’

However, statistics released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggest that emotional abuse in families is still widespread in the UK.

ONS explained: ‘The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that 1 in 11 adults aged 18 to 74 experienced emotional abuse before the age of 16 (3.8 million people); this only includes perpetrators from 16 years or older.

‘The abuse was most often committed by the child’s parents; around 5 out of 10 were abused by the mother, around 4 out of 10 were abused by the father. ‘

HELICOPTER PARENTS: A FORM OF OVERPROTECTION PARENTS

Parents who are overprotective are sometimes referred to as ‘helicopter parents’.

They were given this stereotype to be perceived as relentless hovering over their children, trying to micro-control their affairs.

The first use of the term is widely attributed to Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers.

In it, teenagers said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter.

The term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011.

Helicopter parents follow their children closely to try to protect them from failure, rejection and injury.

They want ‘happy’ children and often believe that teachers should pay attention to their children in the same overprotective way.

This approach has sparked controversy, with some experts claiming that in order for children to be well-adjusted, they must experience a wide range of emotions.

Parents who want their children to always be happy are doing their children a disservice, in this view.

‘The helicopter parent rushes in to help instead of letting the child try to handle a challenging situation himself.

Some experts say that this can lead to children who are unable to cope with even minor problems, as they are never given the opportunity to fail and then learn from their mistakes.

However, some experts suggest that such ‘intrusive’ parenting may provide benefits to children later in life.

Among them is Dr. Matthias Doepke, Professor of Economics at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.

He argues that the intensity of parenting has increased in many countries in line with growing inequality.

Pushy ‘helicopter’ parents, usually from more economically advantageous backgrounds, generally breed offspring with higher performance.

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