"Idiot! Balderdash! Poppycock! Rrrrgh!" Readers get aggressive about Christopher Healy's story on yelling, "psychological aggession" and child rearing.

By Salon Staff
Published December 15, 2003 7:17PM (EST)

[Read "BECAUSE I SAID SO!!" by Christopher Healy.]

Are you kidding me?! Yelling at our children is "psychological aggression"?! It sounds like some moronic buzzword this idiot psychologist made up! It's called discipline! Sometimes it's harsh, but that's why they don't call it playtime!

I'm sorry. All these exclamation points must make it seem like I'm yelling, and I'd hate to be psychologically aggressive. Perhaps I should speak quietly and pleasantly, with hardly any emphasis to my words. Because, you know, that works so well when my 3-year-old is throwing a fit about getting dressed in the morning.

Rrrrgh! Has this idiot not seen the generation of children raised by parents who were made to feel like child abusers every time they tried to discipline their kids? They behave like little monsters, because some jerk with a degree told the parents it was wrong to make them behave themselves.

Well, sorry, Dr. Straus, but I'm going to go right on being psychologically aggressive toward my child. Because, quite frankly, I have no desire to add one more uncontrollable monster to the mix.

It wasn't mentioned in the article, but I can only assume this "expert" doesn't have children of his own.

-- Chris Wichtendahl

I read this article with a bemused smile plastered on my face. Had some phone polling outfit called my house inquiring as to whether I yelled at my kids, I can guarantee, some kid in my house would have been yelled at while I was being quizzed.

Parents might not "yell" at their kids, but trust me, out there in the big, bad world, someone is waiting behind a cubicle, a soccer coach whistle, a cab wheel or police badge to tear little junior a new one.

I yell at my kids if only because they need to be inoculated against the sudden trauma of spontaneous yelling just as they need to be vaccinated against influenza.

But I always give my kids an option. They can hear "Nice Daddy" ask them to put their snow boots on or they can hear "Crazed, Incensed, Gasket-Blown Daddy" do a mental tap-dance on their frail and easily busied subpsyches. Sometimes they opt for the latter just for the show.

-- Courtney Wayshak

As Christopher Healy points out, shouting is sometimes necessary in parenting in order to prevent a child from doing something dangerous.

However, I have to agree with Murray Straus and Carolyn Field that shouting can create an environment of "psychological aggression."

I spent most of my childhood being shouted and cursed at by an angry, frustrated mother. The shouting was a constant element of my life; I dreaded returning home from school because I knew that my mother's furious rants awaited me. Most of the time, I had no idea what she was yelling about and tried to just stay out of her way or please her in any way I could just to get her off my back. I spent a lot of time holed up in my room, where I had my own space and a temporary retreat from the shouting.

It took me a long time to realize that I didn't deserve to be shouted at, and that my mother's overwhelming rage was not my fault. I slowly learned not to take responsibility for her feelings, or those of others, but only for my own.

I'm still learning. And I'm scared to death of having children of my own. It would kill me to perpetrate this sort of psychological aggression on another generation.

-- Name withheld

When I started reading your article highlighting this so-called study, I was prepared to be angry. But I then realized the idiocy of these "researchers." To claim that yelling is "psychological aggression" without any scientific basis to back up the claim is patently ridiculous. Yelling at a child (whether intentional or not) to get their attention, warn them or provide emergency guidance is not only OK but is often necessary.

I grew up in a loud family. The kind of family where my father and mother yelled, screamed, and were just in general loud. I also grew up in quite possibly the most loving, caring, nurturing family I have ever seen. My parents, still happily married after 35-plus years, are passionately in love. That passion showed itself through yelling:

"Watch out, you'll cut your finger off!!!"

"How many times have I told you not to play in the street!!!"

"That's it! Your are grounded until next week!!!"

So has this harmed me in some way? I don't think so. I am a good husband and father. I love my wife and daughter and show it. Hey, I am not perfect and I don't yell very often. When I do it is usually for a reason. Much like my parents did with me.

-- Jeff Holsinger

Oh, man. As if I didn't have enough to feel bad about.

Ye gads. I never ever say, "You're a bad girl!" to either daughter. I never say, "I wish you had never been born," or "I'm going to give you to a different family." (Even though I sometimes hear "I wish I didn't have a mommy," or "I wish I could live with a different family" -- one who would let her jump on the trampoline despite having a nasty cough.)

But now I can add to my maternal guilt pile the fact that I have in fact yelled at my daughters -- and will do so again.

I try not to yell. I don't like yelling, and I often apologize for yelling, but cripes -- I'm human. It happens.

I am in favor of parents trying to work hard at being kind, gentle, understanding and nurturing. If studies like this make us think, well, some good is done. But let's not feel like abusers because our inner toddler lets loose on occasion and causes us to yell.

-- Leela

There is an even more insidious and harmful syndrome plaguing the nation than that of the "concerned neighbor" that Christopher Healy refers to. Namely, that of the hysterically defensive parents who are unable to objectively examine themselves. Any parenting advice, study, book, or the like should be viewed as a resource, rather than harsh truths or outright judgments of all parents.

Are there shades of gray in parenting? Of course there are. Why must a review of a study be hell-bent on disproving it, solely because it's unpleasant to consider? Is it really that much of a stretch to consider that yelling at your kids could be harmful to them? Use the common sense test: How do you feel when someone yells at you?

Besides, what does it teach them? You are bigger and louder, so you win? Raising your voice to be heard and raising your voice to intimidate are two different things. Intimidation is harmful and abusive, whether or not you like the term. It is a negative pattern that only increases with each perceived "success." It's not irreparable, but it is a good idea to be aware of your yelling, and attempt to limit it. Aren't there other ways of getting your point across? Is your objective to win, or to teach?

-- Kevin Estes

Agh! I am so tired of hand-wringing ultra-lefty sociology/psychology-types trying to totally destroy children and child rearing in the U.S. I am sick of hearing how spanking is evil and does harm. How any dent in self-esteem, which can apparently occur with the mere movement of an eye, ruins one's children.

Balderdash! Poppycock! Bullcr@p! Isn't it funny how the greatest evils to occur in American society are of recent vintage, post Dr. Spock, post self-esteem worrying, post spanking (and now yelling!)?

When I was growing up (I'm in my 40s now) no one ever brought guns into schools and blew anyone away. The bullies were there, just like today, but the worst that would ever happen was a rare fistfight.

I grew up to be an officer in the U.S. Air Force, then a Ph.D. biochemist. I am not meek and mild by any stretch, but I have no desire, no wish, to do any harm to anything or anyone. I even prefer to avoid killing errant insects.

By the way, I was spanked as a child, by my parents and by a few teachers in grade school. I was yelled at by my parents and sisters as a child when I did something wrong. And the things that brought on that response were wrong. I turned out to have good self-esteem, to be well adjusted, and successful.

Oh yeah, I also like evil violent-type video games. Yet I have no desire, suppressed or otherwise, to harm anyone. Hmmm -- must be the way I was reared, spankings and all.

-- Praedor Atrebates

While the author of this article may feel that yelling at a kid "unintentionally" or to "protect" them is acceptable, he should keep in mind that a lot of physically aggressive parents use the same justifications for beating their kids.

Just because aggression is "unintended" or verbal as opposed to physical doesn't make it right. In fact, all it does is make sure your kids will think it's OK to use the same aggression against their children. It's time for aggressive parents to stop making excuses and take responsibility for changing their bad behavior.

-- Ellesmere Tripp

To quote Bugs Bunny: "What a complete maroon!" These two "psychologists" are published? Talk about inanity in the media. Jeeeze. The light of my life is 17, a better than average student, and has not killed a single person as far as I know. And he was yelled at on occasion. Now, of course, he's too big and he yells back. Hmmmm. Maybe your two shrinks have it backward? Kids yelling at parents?

These two guys have no empirical proof of their crass and totally over-the-top statement and they got press. I think the article should have been listed under "Pop Psychiatry," "Humor Division."

-- Ross Homer

Mr. Healey would have been well served by doing more research into child-rearing strategies in other cultures for an additional perspective. In researching Inuit culture a few years ago, I learned that the Inuit generally allow children the opportunity to make mistakes, overstep their bounds, destroy property, act selfishly, along with other unacceptable behaviors without reprimanding in the "Western" sense of the word.

As I understood the philosophy, Inuit children will learn the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior based on the repercussions of their actions. If they break something, they might be asked to replace or rebuild the broken object. Yelling immediately at a child's mistake would, in fact, be considered unnecessarily aggressive.

-- Matthew Lunn

I thoroughly enjoyed Christopher Healy's critique of Murray Straus' recent tyrannical posture against what he calls "psychological aggression" in child rearing, but what really amounts to merely raising your voice. Healy uses wit and wisdom to combat the holier-than-thou posturing of a researcher who has taken his admirable advocacy of nonviolence in personal relationships a step too far, and is now beating us over the heads with it.

Here is a researcher of great expertise, of great intentions, and with great research methods and resources, who comes up with a dumb point of view. However, I would like to point out that this is not the fault of either the field of psychology or research. It has always been a weakness of Straus that he equates all aggression within the family. Straus has been criticized for equating the aggression of women to the aggression of men in spousal discord, despite a significant difference in the average size and strength of perpetrators, and the far greater consequences on the whole of violence by men.

I fear that Straus has become even more dogmatic through the years in assuming a Gandhi-like posture against all aggression, disregarding the complexities of life. He remains unconvincing.

-- Cathy Casriel

Salon Staff

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