Having an alcoholic parent may increase the risk that a teen will commit dating violence, researchers say.
Their new study also found that the root causes of teen dating violence may be planted as early as infancy.
"Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behavior and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life," said study author Jennifer Livingston.
She’s a senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.
"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," Livingston said in a university news release.
The study included 144 teens who had a father with an alcohol use disorder. The teens had been followed since the age of one.
The researchers found that mothers who lived with an alcoholic tended to be more depressed. As a result, they were less loving with their children, beginning in infancy, the study found.
"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."
These parenting issues can impair a child’s ability to control his or her behavior, resulting in increased aggression in early and middle childhood, the research team said.
In turn, kids who are more aggressive in childhood, particularly with their siblings, are more likely to be aggressive with romantic partners when they’re teens, Livingston said.
"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 research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are more warm and sensitive during the toddler years, she added.
"This in turn can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control, and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behavior," she concluded.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.