*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on HealthDay.
"Harsh" parenting that includes frequent yelling, hitting and threats may bring out the worst in teens' behavior instead of getting them to toe the line, a new study suggests.
Tracking nearly 1,500 students over nine years, researchers found that those who were parented harshly in seventh grade were more likely to turn to their peers in unhealthy ways, such as hanging out with friends instead of doing homework or engaging in early sexual behavior.
The researchers also found that those who were parented harshly were more likely to drop out of school.
"We're primed as individuals to pay attention to our environmental cues. If we're in a situation where there's a lot of harshness, unpredictability or danger, we're more likely to try to capitalize on immediate and short-term rewards," said study co-author Rochelle Hentges. She's a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at University of Pittsburgh.
In contrast, "if you're in a really stable, secure environment, it makes sense to put resources toward a long-range goal, like education," Hentges added.
Although the study found an association between harsh parenting and these negative outcomes, it didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Hentges and her colleagues examined data on 1,482 students from Maryland starting in seventh grade and ending three years after students' expected high school graduation. The students were from a wide range of racial, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds.
Defining harsh parenting as yelling, hitting and engaging in forceful behaviors such as verbal or physical threats to punish, the researchers found that those kids who were parented harshly were more likely in ninth grade to say their peer group was more important than following parental rules.
Seeking validation from peers instead of their harsh parents is the way these teens get the affirmation they crave, Hentges said.
By 11th grade, girls were more likely to have sex earlier and boys were more apt to behave delinquently, including hitting and stealing. By three years after high school, harshly parented teens were more likely to drop out of high school or college.
The study is published online Feb. 8 in the journal Child Development.