Ten Serious Effects of Negative Parenting—and the Science Behind Them

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 3/17/2015, 12:32 p.m.
We all know that neglectful, dysfunctional, and/or abusive parenting patterns can have long-term negative effects on children. Marianna Klebanov draws ...
The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development (Routledge, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-138-02513-4, $46.95, www.anewconversationonparenting.com) is available for purchase through Routledge, on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and through a number of additional booksellers.

"Children's primary caregivers directly impact the child's primary and fundamental neural connections at times of prime brain plasticity," Klebanov states. "Ironically, many people throughout history and today have applied the concept that children must be strictly corrected so that they do not grow up to be immoral individuals. But in reality, kind, loving, and responsive parenting leads to emotional maturity and empathetic morality. Cruel, distant, and critical parenting leads to children who become cruel, distant, and critical adults."

Parenting affects violence, crime, and war. When a child is parented with violence, neural connections form in an unhealthy fashion. (Klebanov states that violent parenting certainly includes severe trauma, but also covers "less serious" practices like spanking and slapping.) In particular, the child's brain becomes overwhelmed with stress, leading to faulty stress response systems that contribute to irrational behaviors such as hypervigilance, violence toward others, and revictimization.

And once again, brain scan studies demonstrate that trauma during development stunts the growth of the child's brain in various ways, which can lead to violent behavior due to limited cognitive abilities and difficulty controlling aggression in a healthy manner.

"Parents who are violent toward their children often rationalize the behavior based on the concept of retribution," Klebanov shares. "That is, if a child behaves badly, he or she 'deserves' a painful punishment. When the majority of a society's children are parented with violence—which is certainly the case in the United States—that society's prevailing belief becomes that escalating violence, retribution, and cruelty are somehow constructive. It's easy to see how this belief plays out not only in individual households, but in violent crime, gang warfare, and the perpetuation of war."

Parenting affects mental health. As Klebanov has explained, childhood trauma caused by parental mistreatment can lead to a host of mental health dysfunctions. And in fact, many studies have shown a significant link between childhood trauma and mental illness.

"Specifically, childhood trauma has been linked to PTSD, attachment disorders, dissociative behaviors, developmental delays, disordered psychological patterns, inappropriate response and interaction in social situations (including ambivalent, hypervigilant, contradictory, or excessively inhibited responses), higher levels of internalizing, and deviant behaviors in adolescence," she notes. "Childhood trauma can also lead to anxiety and depression. All of these psychological issues have tragic impacts on individual lives, and collectively, they cost our society dearly."

Parenting affects addiction. Studies have shown that adverse childhood experiences lead to an increase in addictive behaviors. Parental substance abuse, as well as the need to dull the pain caused by one's own childhood maltreatment, may lead to substance abuse in the victimized individual. Frequently, children of substance abusers themselves replay their parents' patterns.

"Whatever its cause, it's no secret that substance abuse often leads to serious lifelong problems that impact individuals and society as a whole," Klebanov says. "These problems include health issues, emotional limitations, obsessions and compulsions, serious financial issues, an inability to take responsibility for one's actions, destroyed relationships, anger and/or violence, a lack of productivity, an inability to responsibly manage family obligations, and more."