When Children Assault Their Parents

Although we rarely hear about it, children sometimes aggress against their parents.  This is a difficult topic to study because abused parents and abusive children are both reluctant to admit the occurrence of child-to-parent aggression. There are very few research studies on this topic, and even fewer theoretical explanations of why it occurs. In a new study published in Developmental Psychologist, researchers predicted that exposure to violence in the home (e.g., parents aggressing against each other) and ineffective parenting (i.e., parenting that is overly permissive or lacks warmth) influences cognitive schemas of how children perceive themselves and the world around them (i.e., whether aggression is normal, whether they develop grandiose self-views, and whether they feel disconnected and rejected), which, in turn, predicts child-to-parent aggression. In a 3-year longitudinal study of 591 adolescents and their parents, we found that exposure to violence in Year 1 predicted child-to-parent aggression in Year 3. In addition, parenting characterized by lack of warmth in Year 1 was related to narcissistic and entitled self-views and disconnection and rejection schemas in Year 2, which, in turn, predicted child-to-mother and child-to-father aggression in Year 3. Gender comparisons indicated that narcissism predicted child-to-parent aggression only in boys and that exposure to violence was a stronger predictor of child-to-father violence in boys. This longitudinal study increases our understanding of the understudied but important topic of child-to-parent aggression, and will hopefully stimulate future research.

For the abstract.


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