'Harsh' parenting may have same impact on kids' brains as severe abuse

Being a 'harsh' parent may have a long-term impact on a child's brain development, according to a new study from the University of Montreal. The researchers describe harsh parenting as things like yelling and hitting kids, getting angry at them, or shaking them. Kids repeatedly subjected to these experiences were found to have the same brain changes found in kids subjected to more extreme abuse.

A number of past studies have linked serious abuse during childhood, as well as neglect and select other experiences, with an increased risk of developing emotional problems, depression, and anxiety. The research found a link between the experiences and changes in the brain, particularly smaller than typical amygdala and prefrontal cortexes.

This new study from the University of Montreal found that kids who are frequently subjected to 'harsh' treatment from their parents, such as yelling and anger, experience the same smaller sizes in these two brain regions. The findings highlight that a child doesn't have to be subjected to more serious abuse to suffer long-term consequences.

The effects were observed in adolescents who experienced chronic harsh parenting in their childhood. Sabrina Suffren, Ph.D., the researcher who conducted the study, explained:

These findings are both significant and new. It's the first time that harsh parenting practices that fall short of serious abuse have been linked to decreased brain structure size, similar to what we see in victims of serious acts of abuse ... Keep in mind that these children were constantly subjected to harsh parenting practices between the ages of 2 and 9. This means that differences in their brains are linked to repetitive exposure to harsh parenting practices during childhood.