These Studies Will Help You Understand “Abusive Parenting”

by AnnaMarie Houlis

Abusive parenting could be verbal or physical and, regardless of what form it takes, it could leave scars that stay with children even when they become adults and parents to children of their own. In a May 4 article "Abusive Parenting Styles Can Be Inherited. Here Are 5 Ways To Break The Cycle" for The Washington Post,writer Sarah Szczypinski cited a number of studies that found that abusive parenting can be inherited, which means it could affect generation after generation. But, according to experts Szczypinski spoke with, parents can break the cycle so they don't repeat the same abusive behaviors of their own parents.

Szczypinski cited a number of studies that all found physically and verbally abusive punishment styles to not only leave lasting effects on children, but to also be ineffective. For example, one such study found that physical abuse could lead to increased “wear and tear” on bodily regulatory systems, leading to long-term negative health effects, and another found that harsh verbal discipline in early adolescence can be harmful to teens later, and they tend to misbehave at school, lie to their parents, steal, or fight.

That anger and irritability can be dangerous. As reported by Psy Blog, in his 2013 book that examined four decades of research into the effects of spanking, Professor Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire found that physical abuse could lead to “poorer mental development, weaker emotional ties between parents and children, increased risk the child will hit other children, and increased risk the child will later hit their partner.”

But why, if a parent has experienced abuse themselves, would they continue that abuse? Perhaps because it's difficult to deal with unresolved traumas from one’s past, which can heavily influence a person’s present, according to Lisa Firestone Ph.D., who wrote on the subject for Psychology Today. She wrote that she's seen "men and women who grew up in dramatically different social and economic environments than that of their children recreate the exact same emotional climate within their own families." And whether they blame their parents or defend their actions, they tend to struggle with breaking the cycle of abuse that hurt them when they have to deal with their own children.

In her Washington Post report, Szczypinski interviewed Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of Nobody’s Baby Now: Reinventing Your Relationship with Your Mother and Father. Newman shared her advice for breaking the cycle of abuse, including recognizing and getting help for your own abusive patterns, among others.

If you’re still worried about those stressful parenting moments when you feel like you just can’t take it anymore, other experts recommend creating a plan for what you could do instead of spanking or hitting your child. Very Well Family has a number of recommendations for alternatives to spanking; they include time out, ignoring bad behavior that is simply attention-seeking, providing logical consequences (like not allowing your kid to play with their toys later if they won’t clean them up now), and/or praising them regularly when they are doing a great job. Breaking a cycle of abuse when it’s what you were raised around isn’t easy — and you’re not a bad parent if you’ve made a mistake in the past. But parents can change and continue to set a positive example for their kids — one that those kids will hopefully carry on for generations.

Editor's note: After publication, we discovered this article did not meet our editorial standards. There were portions that did not correctly attribute another source. It has been updated to meet our standards, and the headline has been changed.