Teenagers who abuse their romantic partners could have alcoholic parents to blame -- here's why

  • Teenagers with alcoholic fathers might be more likely to abuse their own partners.
  • A study has shown this could be because their mothers become depressed, and therefore aren’t as warm and sensitive towards them.
  • These signs of aggression can be seen, and dealt with, while children are still toddlers.

Children are more in tune to their parents’ drinking habits than we might think. Research has shown they might notice changes in mum or dad’s behaviour, even if they have only had one glass of wine.

According to a new study, having parents who have an alcohol use disorder can even increase the risk that children will be violent towards their own partners as teenagers — and signs of this violent behaviour can even be recognised as early as infancy.

The research, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, looked at the behaviour of 144 teenagers who had fathers with alcoholism. They were followed from the age of 12 months, and data was collected regularly throughout their lives.

With this information, the authors were able to identify some factors which had led to the subjects being involved in abusive relationships when they got to their teens.

“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.

There’s more conflict when alcohol addiction is involved.

For example, they found that mothers with alcoholic husbands were more likely to be depressed, and therefore were less attentive and caring towards their children.

“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.”

A lack of interaction and closeness with parents could be a reason children grow up struggling to control their own behaviour. If they don’t receive as much attention from either parent due to their father’s alcoholism, they may become more aggressive, either as a coping mechanism, or simply because nobody has taken the time to teach them otherwise.

The study concluded that this can have an indirect affect on children growing up and becoming aggressive to their own romantic partners in their teenage years.

“Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at-risk due to alcohol problems,” Livingston said.

“Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support. 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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