Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Moms' financial fears led to more spanking, shouting

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Wed August 7, 2013
As the economy faltered,
As the economy faltered, "anticipation of the disaster" affected how some parents treated their children, new research says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New study finds economic downturn led to more spanking, hitting and yelling by moms
  • "Harsh parenting" got worse as moms felt more uncertain, study says
  • Genetic makeup played a role in whether moms lashed out
  • Researchers: Study shows how financial stress affects a variety of people

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She's a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Any mom will tell you stress and happy parenting don't often go hand in hand. I know I've had my share of "mom moments" when I raised my voice and lost my cool, and often anxieties about children/husband/work were to blame.

Thankfully, one key stressor was never in the mix for me: financial uncertainty, which a new study says can lead some moms to be much harsher with their kids.

Researchers studied the families of 5,000 children before, during and after the start of the 2007 economic downturn. They found it was the changing economic conditions, not the recession itself, that led to an uptick in mothers threatening, hitting, spanking and shouting. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It seems to be the anticipation of the disaster rather than high levels of unemployment themselves, so things were getting really bad when things were getting worse, when the stock market was falling," said one of the study co-authors, Sara McLanahan, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University.

To spank or not to spank: Where do you draw the line?

"Very few people" said they never did any of these things, McLanahan said, but to be identified as "harsh parenting," the behavior had to happen a number of times. "They were doing this stuff a lot."

Does new Delaware law ban spanking?
Study: Spanking may cause mental issues
Does corporal punishment work?
Blair Koenig started the STFU, Parents blog after reading a few too many status updates about the bathroom habits of her friends' children. Click through for examples of the 10 worst overshares she sees on her site. (Warning: Some links contain strong language.) Blair Koenig started the STFU, Parents blog after reading a few too many status updates about the bathroom habits of her friends' children. Click through for examples of the 10 worst overshares she sees on her site. (Warning: Some links contain strong language.)
10 worst STFU, Parents moments
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
Too much parental sharing Too much parental sharing

When the unemployment rate climbed, researchers were surprised to find a drop in the so-called harsher parenting, she said.

"People adjust to really bad things when they know what to expect," she said, explaining the findings. "It's the feeling of being out of control (that) is almost worse."

Not all mothers responded to the economic uncertainty by being tougher on their children. About one-half of mothers studied carried a gene variation that's connected to regulating mood and behavior. Only those mothers increased harsh parenting as economic conditions worsened. The struggling economic conditions did not affect the levels of shouting, threatening and spanking among mothers without the gene variation.

As economic conditions improved, the mothers with the gene variation were less likely than other mothers to engage in harsh parenting.

"When things were getting better, this same group of people actually responded more positively, so they're not just worriers," McLanahan said. "They're just sensitive to what's going on. So when things are getting worse, they seem to do worse. When things are getting better, they seem to do better."

The recession generation

Still, as the economy failed, the increase in harsh parenting was greater than the decrease in tough parenting later when the financial outlook improved.

"It is scarier when you are losing something," she said, compared with how good you feel "when you're gaining."

McLanahan and her fellow co-authors from New York and Columbia universities and Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine knew that economic strains of the past, such as the Great Depression, affected families. Since they were already gathering data for another study during and after the economic crash, they decided to explore the impact of the Great Recession. Fathers were interviewed for the study, but their DNA was not collected.

"It is affecting a lot more people than just who becomes actually unemployed (and) loses their house," McLanahan said. "We know it affects those people, but this is saying there's a lot more people who are reacting."

The researchers didn't study the impact of the yelling, threatening and slapping on children, but previous research shows those actions can lead to behavior problems, including depression, shyness and withdrawal, as well overly aggressive behavior, McLanahan said.

"We know harsh parenting is bad," she said.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

9 things you shouldn't say to your child

She and her fellow researchers plan to follow up with the families in the study to determine the effects on children.

The implications from the study, for policymakers and all of us, are realizing how many more people might be affected by economic uncertainty -- not just an adult going through a layoff or foreclosure, McLanahan said.

"Being able to try to promote as much security as you can is a good idea," she said.

Was the recession a hard time for you as a parent? How did your responses toward your children change during the financial crisis? How did you cope then, and how are you coping today?

We'd like to hear from you for a follow-up story. Please share your stories in the comments, or via e-mail at cnn.features.sources@gmail.com.

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
updated 7:43 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
While most children wait and hope Santa visits them at home on Christmas Eve, this year dozens of Denver-area children went directly to the big man's arctic home turf.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Almost 300 students who had been rejected by Johns Hopkins University received a joyous shock over the weekend when the prestigious Baltimore school said they'd been admitted after all -- but they hadn't.
updated 5:09 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
There is no way around the topic of nakedness in front of your children without getting personal and slightly uncomfortable.
updated 6:55 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Teens might be shedding their rebellious reputations: A survey says they're doing fewer drugs, drinking and smoking less. But E-cigarette use is up.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Carol Costello asks whether American culture sends a message to girls that it's not cool to study math and science fields.
updated 12:44 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
It's that special time of year, when Christmas and Hanukkah toy sellers try to put children in a box.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Foodies and travelers: They're adventurous, they have discerning tastes and they love to discover a little-known jewel. Here's how to shop for them.
CNN iReport asked families with children with developmental and physical disabilities to share what their lives are like.
updated 7:00 AM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
Don't know what to get parents who are always on the move or kids who seem to have everything? This is just the list for you.
updated 11:45 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
You probably know LOL and OMG -- but what about IWSN, CU46 or IPN. It's all about KPC -- "keeping parents clueless."
updated 9:17 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Out of control parties, sex and alcohol are some of the dangers kids might get into when left alone overnight. But some are mature enough to handle it. How do you know?
updated 11:58 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Across the country and around the world, synthetic drugs are tearing holes in families.
updated 11:42 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
There's no place like home for the holidays -- and for one little girl in Cleveland, it's the only place.
Girl Scout cookie sales are entering the 21st century. For the first time ever, Girl Scout cookies will be sold online through a national platform called Digital Cookie. This breaks the organization's ban on e-sales of Thin Mints and Samoas.
updated 9:19 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Author/actor B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak is catering to kids. His first children's book tops the New York Times list of best selling children's picture books. But here's the catch: it actually doesn't have any pictures.
updated 7:20 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Hundreds of students walked out of their Oklahoma high school Monday to protest the school's response to the alleged bullying of three classmates who say they were raped by the same person.
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 4:12 PM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
Students unhappy with school meals are taking it out on the first lady by sharing images on social media of lunches sarcastically tagged #ThanksMichelleObama.
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT