A study has revealed that a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases the risk for dating violence among their children when they are teenagers.
The study by a group of researchers from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions traced the root causes of teen dating violence to as far back as infancy.
Jennifer A. Livingston, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA and lead author of the study, in a report published on the University at Buffalo website said that teen dating violence was seen as a problem that was isolated to the adolescent period of child development.
“What this study shows is that aggressive behavior and violence during dating are reactions to stressors much early in life. Events that happened early in our lives trigger violence towards our partner,” she said.
According to the report, the study was conducted on 144 teenagers who had fathers with an alcohol use disorder and who had been initially recruited for the study at 12 months of age.
By analyzing the data that was collected regularly over the course of their lifespan, Livingston and her team were able to identify factors that led to some of the teenagers being involved in abusive 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 said.
The study also found that mothers whose partners had alcohol use disorders tended to be more depressed, and as a result were less warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children, beginning in infancy.
This trickle-down effect often played negatively on the child’s ability to have healthy relationships later in life.
“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 the study, these conditions can interfere with children’s abilities to control their own behavior, resulting in higher levels of aggression in early and middle childhood.
The study also found that children who were more aggressive with their siblings were more likely of being abusive towards their partners as adults.
It noted that when children didn’t have the right emotional framework guiding them, they veered toward not being able to control their own behavior. This results in high levels of aggression which filters through into adult, romantic relationships, the study concluded.
“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 said.
The findings of the study can point us in the right direction, by showing us that risk of violence in children can be reduced if parents are taught to be more balanced, warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during their infancy.
This in turn can reduce marital conflict and lead to better self control among the children, ultimately reducing involvement in aggressive behavior in their dating years.
The team hopes that this study will lead to a better model of learning ability for infants, and the care that has to be taken when raising them to avoid conflicts later on in life. The team hopes that this research will drive forward a more balanced and involved parenting.