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The damaging power of words

Study shows words can have a damaging effect.

Study shows words can have a damaging impact on teens.

A playtime children chant “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me” leaves the impression words are harmless.  But in fact words have power and the Bible speaks clearly on the damage words can inflict on a person’s heart.

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword. (Proverbs 12:18a NASV)

The Hebrew phrase “speaks rashly” refers to a word spoken “rashly” or “thoughtlessly.” It refers to words spoken with emotion. Words spoken in anger. Such words are compared to thrusts of a sword in the way they can inflict “internal wounds.”

A study conducted by the researchers from the University of Michigan and University of Pittsburgh shows parents can inflict long-lasting damage on their children through words.

The researchers found the forceful use of words such as “stupid” or “lazy” can have damaging consequences on a teen.

According to the study, parents who yell at their adolescent children put their child at risk for increased depression and aggressive behaviour. In fact, yelling can make a teen’s behaviour worse.

The researchers followed 976 families with children at the time aged between 13 and then reassessed them again when their children were 14 years of age.  They surveyed parenting techniques including the use of harsh language and the teens for symptoms of depression and behavioural problems. During their initial survey when the children were 13, 45% of the mothers and 42% of the fathers said they used “harsh” language.

They discovered at age 14, children of parents using harsh language displayed more negative symptoms than those who didn’t. In fact, the more  negative words and yelling a child received, the worse their behaviour.

This included:

  • increased conflict with fellow students
  • increased levels of lying
  • Increase trouble with school authorities
  • Increased symptoms of depression

The study showed the negative impact of yelling occurred even in families described as “warm and loving” by both parents and children.

But the negative impact of words is not limited to just teens. A thrusting sword can hurt anyone it’s turned against.

Words can also heal

As a parent, who of us has not spoken negative words over our children in frustration.  We have all said things we later regretted.

But we can undo the damage. The second half of Provers 12:18 says our words can also bring healing:

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword.
But the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Yes, words of encouragement and edification will actually bring healing.

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