New research out of the US and London shows that shouting at children can be just as harmful to them as sexual or physical abuse.
The study, commissioned by the UK charity Words Matter, was published this month in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect. It calls for childhood verbal abuse (CVA) to be officially recognized as a “form of maltreatment.”
In making this determination, researchers from Wingate University in North Carolina and University College London (UCL) analyzed 149 quantitative and 17 qualitative studies examining CVA.
Study authors found that the definitional themes of abuse included “negative speech volume, tone, and speech content, and their immediate impact.”
The most common perpetrators of CVA are parents, mothers, and teachers, the study found.
Some of the effects of CVA can last throughout a child’s life.
The abuse can create “underlying emotional and psychological repercussions,” which include obesity, increased risks of anger, substance abuse, depression, and self-harm, UCL said in a statement.
Researchers say there needs to be a better way of defining CVA.
Currently, four categories comprise childhood maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.
The study noted that throughout the years, childhood emotional abuse has “increased in prevalence.”
“Preventing the maltreatment of children is the most effective way we can reduce the prevalence of child mental health problems,” study co-author and professor Peter Fonagy, head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL, said in a statement.
“A sharp focus on childhood verbal abuse by adults around them by the new charity Words Matter and this review will help make significant change and support and direct our efforts to identify and respond to this risk in an effective and timely manner,” he added.
Researchers concluded that acknowledging CVA as a type of maltreatment is a “starting point” for identifying and preventing it.
The study authors also suggest adult training on “the importance of safety, support, and nurturance during verbal communication with children.”
“Childhood verbal abuse desperately needs to be acknowledged as an abuse subtype, because of the lifelong negative consequences,” lead study author, Wingate professor Shanta Dube, said in a statement.