For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking

New York Times October 22, 2009

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.

Familial screamers have long been a beloved part of American pop culture, from the Costanzas of “Seinfeld” back to the Goldbergs of radio and early television, but they didn’t yell at small children. And though previous generations of parents may have yelled in real life — Dr. Spock called shouting “inevitable from time to time” — this generation of parents seems to be uniquely troubled by their own outbursts.

To research their book “Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids,” the three authors, Devra Renner, Aviva Pflock and Julie Bort, commissioned a survey of 1,300 parents across the country to determine sources of parental guilt. Two-thirds of respondents named yelling — not working or spanking or missing a school event — as their biggest guilt inducer. “What blew us away about that is that the one thing you really have ultimate control over is the tone of your voice,” said Ms. Pflock, a child development specialist. Parental yelling today may be partly a releasing of stress for multitasking, overachieving adults, parenting experts say. “Yelling is done when parents feel irritable and anxious,” said Harold S. Koplewicz, the founder of the New York University Child Study Center. “It can be as simple as ‘I’m overwhelmed, I’m running late for work, I had a fight with my wife, I have a project due — and my son left his homework upstairs.’ ”