Harsh Parenting May Lead to Negative Outcomes in Adulthood

Student putting head on notebookParents who use harsh parenting tactics, such as physical and verbal aggression, may exacerbate the behaviors they wish to prevent, according to a study published in the journal Child Development. Children whose parents used harsh tactics had poor academic outcomes and were more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.

Parenting Effects on Educational Attainment

The study initially enrolled 1,482 seventh graders living near Washington, D.C. Researchers followed the teens for nine years, until they were 21. The group was racially, socioeconomically, and geographically diverse. At the end of the study, 1,060 participants remained.

The students answered questions about their parents’ use of verbal and physical aggression. They also reported on their relationships with peers, sexual behavior, and habits such as balancing time with peers and time to complete homework.

Children of harsh parents were more likely to report in ninth grade that their peers were more important than following the rules. By eleventh grade, these teens engaged in more high-risk behaviors. Boys in this group were more likely to engage in juvenile delinquency such as stealing and aggression, while girls were more likely to participate in early sexual behavior.

By 21, adults who were harshly parented as children had lower educational attainment. They were more likely to drop out of school, and they had lower grades and standardized test scores. The study’s authors suggest harsh parenting indirectly leads to lower educational attainment by encouraging children to place the highest value on peer relationships and embrace high-risk behaviors that sustain those relationships.

The study’s authors suggest improved intervention strategies for teens whose parents use harsh parenting tactics could help increase their potential educational attainment later in life.

Harsh Parenting May Be an Ineffective Strategy

Other studies have also linked harsh parenting to negative outcomes in children. One study found children who are more frequently spanked are more likely to struggle at school, be diagnosed with a mental health condition, and engage in antisocial behavior. Another study found parenting style matters most for “difficult” children. Excessively harsh parenting was most harmful to children with challenging temperaments.


Hentges, R. F., & Wang, M. (2017). Gender differences in the developmental cascade from harsh parenting to educational attainment: An evolutionary perspective. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12719

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  • hal

    February 23rd, 2017 at 12:20 PM

    I never quite understood when I was a kid why my parents would be so hard on me, and I know now that they did it so I could grow up and be a good person. I don’t think that this is what this is talking about, but yeah, I do think that in some ways you have to be a little hard on your kids because if I’m not a little tough on them now what kind of adult will they grow up to be?

  • Cassandra

    February 24th, 2017 at 10:55 AM

    Ugh it drives me crazy to hear parents tell their children to not hit someone and then when they do it again what happens? They get a spanking! Now what kind of message is that putting out there? You tell the child not to hit but then they don’t act the way that you want them to so you hit them. Isn’t this going against the very thing that you are trying to teach them? I know that most parents have every good intentions but this seriously has to stop. You just have to think for a minute about the message that this is giving them and once they have learned the message it can be awfully hard for them to unlearn it.

  • Vera

    February 26th, 2017 at 1:26 PM

    I know that to be the best parent to my children I can’t be their every day best buddy, but at the same time I would never want them to live in fear of me.

    I think that of course there has to be certain boundaries that you have with your kids, and they have to know that you are the adult in the relationship.

    But they also need to know that your love for them is unconditional and that it does not come with any strings attached.

    Once they know that through thick and thin you will always be there then you don’t have to resort to that kind of harsh parenting that some people seem to find so necessary.

  • Joseph

    February 27th, 2017 at 3:34 PM

    Parents can do so much harm to their children but it is likely that most of the time they don’t even realize that what they are doing is harmful to them. They think that they are creating responsible and mature young people but the kids may want or need something that is totally different from what they are receiving.
    It would be wonderful if we could all look at our kids and know exactly what they need, but I can assure you that beyond all the frills most of them just simply need the love and respect of their parents.

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