Does Parental Alcoholism Lead To Teen Dating Violence?

By Kelly Burch 10/27/17

In a new study, researchers examined a possible link between aggression in teen years and stressors that occur in early childhood.

Image: 
a teen boy and teen girl sitting back to back, irritated with each other.

A new study suggests that growing up with a father who abuses alcohol makes teenagers more likely to abuse their romantic partners. 

The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, found that unrest and inattention in the home because of a parent’s addiction can affect kids when they are young and lead to more violent behavior during their teen years. 

"It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years," said Jennifer Livingston, lead author of the study and educational psychologist at the University of Buffalo, according to Business Insider

Researchers followed 144 children whose fathers had alcohol use disorder. The kids were followed beginning when they were just 12 months old, and the researchers continued to watch them into their teen years. They found that the children’s early experiences predicted the likelihood that they would abuse their partners as teens. 

“Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behavior and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” Livingston told UB Now, a publication of the University of Buffalo. “It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years.”

Livingston explained that mothers living with partners who abused alcohol were more likely to be depressed. Because of that they were less sensitive in their interactions with their children, even when the children were infants. 

“This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behavior,” Livingston said. “In addition, there is more marital conflict when there is alcohol addiction.”

According to Livingston, the study suggests that early intervention is essential in order to change the long-term outcomes for children raised by parents who abuse alcohol. 

“Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at-risk due to alcohol problems. Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support,” she said.

“Our research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are able to be more warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during the toddler years. This in turn can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control, and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behavior.” 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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