Most Children Learn Violent Behavior at Home
Nov. 29, 1999 (Atlanta) -- When it comes to aggressive behavior, the
foremost role models for children are their parents, according to a new study
in the December edition of the journal Health Education & Behavior.
The study concludes that despite the outside influence of the media and their
peers, what kids see at home is the biggest determinant of how they behave.
With the increase in school violence over the past decade, researchers set
out to find if there were predictors of violent behaviors among young teens. In
tabulating their data, they surveyed nearly 9,000 middle school students from
eight schools in Houston in 1994.
Although there have been other studies showing an association between
aggressive behavior and the family, most studies worked with delinquency, not
with general aggressive behaviors using a broad cross-section of students.
"This is a very large study with regular middle school students,"
Pamela Orpinas, PhD, tells WebMD. "The sample is very diverse, including
Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian, and Asian students, both male and
female." Orpinas is an assistant professor at the Department of Health
Promotion and Behavior at the University of Georgia in Athens.
In the study, students were asked to rate their own aggressive behavior on a
scale composed of 11 items. Items included number of fights and if they ever
carried a weapon.
Students were then asked to rate their relationships with the parents or
guardians they lived with, with five possible responses ranging from "very
well" to "very bad." Parental monitoring was measured by two
- "Do your parents let you come and go as you please?"
- "When you are away from home do your parents know where you are and
whom you are with?"
Students chose one of five possible responses from "never/almost
never," to "almost always."
The students' perceptions of parental attitudes about fighting were also
measured. Students gave "yes" or "no" answers to statements
about their parents' attitudes, what they had told the student about fighting
as well as items related to peaceful alternatives to conflict.
Researchers found that:
- Students who lived with both parents had significantly lower aggression
- The better students got along with their parents, the less likely they were
- The more parents monitored students' activities and friends, the less
aggressive their behavior.
- They noted a strong correlation between a student's aggression and how he
perceived his parents felt about fighting.
Orpinas says that even though students who lived with both parents had the
lowest aggression scores, low parental monitoring, poor relationship with
parents, and perceived parental support for fighting were more predictive of
aggression than family structure. "Although parents may seem loving and
normal they may not be giving kids the guidance they need," says Orpinas.
"Building bombs in garages is not a normal thing. Parents who don't know
this or don't stop it are guilty of a lack of parental monitoring or sending
their child the wrong message."