Being harsh on your children: does it help or hurt?

Growing up, my parents have always been complete opposites when it came to raising me. My mom was always the “good parent”, the one that I loved to come to whenever I messed up and needed her help. Bad test grades, phone calls home from my teachers, and anything else along those lines always went to my mom because she was extremely forgiving and kind whenever I messed up. My dad, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. If he found out about a bad grade, I couldn’t leave the house for a month. He would sit front row at my schools concerts and give me his critiques right after they were done. Waking up early every Saturday morning to do math problems with him was a weekly routine, and I would get scolded if I got any wrong. He always told me that I would appreciate him doing all of this in the long run, but even now, ten yeas later, I still go to my mom with everything because she was always kinder and more understanding than my dad. This made me think: does being harsh on your children help them or hurt them in the long run?

According to a an observational study published in the Social Science and Medicine Journal, harsh parenting has an extremely negative effect on not only adolescent physical health, but on adolescent body mass index as well (ScienceDirect).



According to Thomas J. Schofield, author of the article and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University, parental harshness lowers our self esteem and self image and increases our stress levels. The scariest part is that it carries into our adult lives as well, affecting us even when we don’t live with our parents anymore. These results were also consistent with a meta-analysis that was published in 2009, describing multiple studies showing this exact thing. We can hope that there is no file drawer problem going on since so many studies have been published on this topic, giving us accurate results, especially since many of them have the same results.

There is likely a correlation between harsh parenting and a high BMI due to stress or emotional eating. According to this article, emotional eating stems from childhood, where most of us learn to associate food with comfort (Body For Life). For example, if a baby is crying, a mom would give it a bottle, or if a child falls off a bike he or she is given candy so that they’ll stop crying. When a child is being screamed at by a harsh parent, they turn to food to make themselves feel better; in turn leading to higher BMI and even obesity. I believe that this is incredibly dangerous because obesity, which is already such a big problem in the United States, could be prevented in cases like this if parents knew how to raise their children without pushing them over the edge and causing them to turn to food for comfort.

Young toddler boy eating messy pasta


Low self esteem, something that is definitely prevalent in a child when they are constantly being put down by a harsh parent, is actually what causes adolescent physical health to be compromised. Just like stress causes us to be more susceptible to getting sick, low self esteem, which can cause constant stress and worrying in a person, does just that. Just as physical health is compromised, mental health is extremely affected as well. Low self esteem can cause people to self harm, want to fix their appearance with cosmetic surgery, or even worse, can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

That doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t discipline their children at all, though. There are obviously many positives to disciplining children, like teaching them respect and how to be good people, but all of that can be done in a way that doesn’t hurt them in the long run. Parents can be strict without being harsh and abusive, giving their children a good life minus the low self esteem, high BMI, and many other problems that harsh parenting causes.



Sources –

  1. Source 1 – Study
  2. Source 2 – Meta-Analysis of Data
  3. Source 3 – Emotional Eating

Picture Sources –

  1. Picture 1
  2. Picture 2
  3. Picture 3

1 thought on “Being harsh on your children: does it help or hurt?

  1. Taras Guanowsky

    Very interesting post. This had me thinking about anecdotal cases of strict parenting and the successes of the children. In my experience, culture and ethnic background have a large effect on what you described in your blog. In the study linked below, the success of Asian children with strict tiger parents and relaxed easy going parents was compared. This study showed that children with relaxed parents were more successful. I think a lot of this has to do with independence. Many children of tiger moms never really learn how to do things on their own.

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