“Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behaviour and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” says lead study author and senior research scientist at RIA, Jennifer A. Livingston, PhD.
To draw her conclusions, Livingston studied 144 teenagers from the age of 12 months, all of whom had a father with an alcohol use disorder.
Over the years, she collected and analysed data regularly, thus allowing her to determine factors which led to some of the teenagers getting into abusive or violent dating relationships.
“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,” she explained.
However this wasn’t simply due to the teenagers’ relationships with their fathers.
Livingston found that mothers whose partners had alcohol use disorders tended to be more depressed, which in turn led to them showing less affection to their children and being less warm and sensitive when interacting with them.
“This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behaviour,” Livingston said. “In addition, there is more marital conflict when there is alcohol addiction.”
The study concluded that growing up in conditions like these can affect a child’s capacity to stay in control of their own behaviour, which can then lead to aggressive behaviour in early and middle childhood.
What’s more, those who are aggressive in childhood, particularly with their siblings, are more likely to be aggressive with romantic partners as teenagers.
“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,” Livingston says.
“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 behaviour.”
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