Does your teen only seem to “listen” when you yell?Parents and guardians of teenagers expect challenges and arguments to arise; it comes with the territory. And during the covid-pandemic, tensions are running higher in some households. Occasionally, teenagers push limits so much that parents/guardians feel they’ve lost control over their teen and parents release anger and frustration by yelling or screaming at their teen. Parents frequently justify raised voices by arguing that otherwise their teen won’t listen and obey; in other words, they see it as a corrective measure or a punishment. This line of thinking assumes that by yelling or screaming, a parent will force the teen to change. Admittedly, sometimes this works… temporarily. At the same time, most of us would agree that it’s never satisfying to yell at a loved one – or to be yelled at. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reasons why yelling and screaming at our teens is something to avoid.
Top 5 reasons that Neuroscience & Common Sense Tell us to Stop Yelling at our Teen:
- Yelling and screaming usually don’t encourage positive change, although they can lead to a temporarily halting of some behaviours. Sometimes teens become defensive and mirror the behaviour back to parents (which leads to more yelling and screaming). Sometimes yelling forces teens to “go underground” and hide their unwanted behaviours out of fear of repercussions. Either way, yelling and screaming are not very effective ways to encourage, stimulate and support open communication and behavioural change.
- When we’re yelling and screaming, we’re kind of out of control: within our brains, our own ability to reason and respond thoughtfully has literally been hijacked. Also, stress hormones are released into our blood stream. This raises our own stress levels and increases tension in our muscles. Enough said.
- Parents, sometimes we all need a reminder that we’re the adults in the room. When we’re yelling and screaming, we’re not modelling the kinds of responsive, calm, thoughtful communication skills we’d like our teens to learn; we’re modelling that we solve problems by yelling. And, in case anyone’s wondering, yes, our teens still look to us for cues on how to handle different situations, even if they pretend to know everything already.
- Teens may act as if they don’t care if we yell at them, but they do care. Teens may want to “save face” and act as if they aren’t hurt by yelling, but inside they may be feeling sad, guilty, worthless, rejected or a host of other emotions. Studies have shown that our brain wires according to our experiences and being yelled at regularly has a lasting effect and changes how we feel and think about ourselves into adulthood. Some adults can literally hear their parents’ voices yelling at them in their heads even after leaving home. And in the meantime, yelling and being yelled at by loved ones erodes relationships.
- Neuroscientific studies indicate that being yelled at regularly causes stress hormones to be released into our teen’s bloodstream and can increase chances they develop psychological problems. It also inhibits intellectual and emotional development through changes in the brain. A young brain naturally “prunes” neurons regularly and being yelled at frequently influences where pruning takes place. This is because when children and teens are yelled at recurrently, it sends a signal to their brains that their environment is not safe. As a result, the neurons in the limbic system that regulate the “fight or flight” response are deemed very important for survival and protected from pruning. Because pruning is an ongoing process, neurons of other brain structures (deemed less vital) such as the prefrontal cortex (that regulate functions like decision-making and critical thinking) are pruned instead. And what parent wants to diminish their teen’s ability to make good decisions?
So, common sense and research all point to the wisdom of stopping our tendency to yell and scream at our teens. Even when we’re fed up, angry and stressed. But how do we change our habits and learn to influence and guide teens who seemingly “won’t listen” without raising our voices? We can commit to upgrading our parenting skills to meet the new demands. Why not explore books, blogs and podcasts about parenting teens or talk to a counsellor or parent coach? We can also take steps to reducing our own stress and reactiveness by developing our own mindfulness meditation practice. Some apps that can help get you started are Insight Timer, Headspace, Medito and Calm. Upgrading our parenting skills while focusing on how to manage our own emotions are changes worth making for ourselves and our teen. Now, let’s all take a deep inhale…