Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Violence in the Marital Dyad as a Predictor of Violence in the Peer Relationships of Older Adolescents/Young Adults

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Violence in the Marital Dyad as a Predictor of Violence in the Peer Relationships of Older Adolescents/Young Adults

Article excerpt

This study used self-report of older adolescent/young adult children from a general college population to examine if violent parental conflict tactics predict the use of similarly violent tactics in the same-sex and opposite-sex peer relationships of offspring. Conflict Tactics Scale data from 256 subjects indicate that parental violence within the marital dyad is predictive of violence in both same-sex and opposite-sex peer relationships. Surprisingly high frequencies of violence were reported within parents' marriages and by subjects in their current peer relationships. Implications of these findings are discussed.

Interpersonal violence is a clear and serious problem in modern America. The use of violent tactics to resolve conflict between family members in the general population is much more prevalent than was once thought (Cantrell, Ballard, Nasca, & Guthrie, 1986). Since parents are powerful models for behavior, theoretically, a child who witnesses violence between his or her parents will be likely to use violent tactics to resolve conflicts in other current and future relationships. Thus, marital violence is one factor of particular interest to those who strive to better understand the roots of all interpersonal violence. Previous national studies have indicated that violence research must focus on nonclinical, general samples rather than using restricted samples defined as violent or abusive in some a priori fashion (Gelles & Cornell, 1990).

There are strong theoretical underpinnings linking family and nonfamily violence. Social Learning Theory states that people learn many behaviors, including violent behaviors, through modeling and vicarious processes. Social Learning Theory also suggests that behaviors that are rewarded will be retained, strengthened, and integrated into a person's repertoire of behaviors (Bandura, 1973). One extension of this theory might predict that children who see their parents gaining power or possessions through violence would interpret these behaviors as being rewarded and would be more likely to use the same violent tactics in peer relationships. Cultural Spillover Theory (Straus, 1991) extends the tenets of Social Learning Theory, postulating that violence that is legitimized in one area of life will engender violence in other contexts. Thus, if a child sees his or her parents using violent behaviors to resolve their marital conflicts, this child will learn that these behaviors are a legitimate way to resolve conflicts. This hypothesis has been supported empirically by Straus and his colleagues (Baron, Straus, & Jaffee, 1989). According to Social Learning Theory and Cultural Spillover Theory, a child will learn these legitimized behaviors through modeling processes, integrate them into his or her repertoire of behaviors, and apply them in other contexts or relationships.

Marital violence or abuse, both verbal and physical, can contribute to psychological problems in children who observe these acts. Consequences such as communication deficits, low self-esteem, and behavioral problems may arise in child witnesses to marital violence (Suh & Abel, 1990). These effects may be very long term. Forsstrom-Cohen and Rosenbaum (1985) found that college students who had grown up in homes with parental violence were significantly more anxious than those from satisfactory marital relationships. Results of both studies also reflect gender-related differences, with female witnesses becoming passive and withdrawn or depressed, while male witnesses become aggressive and disruptive. Studies by Porter and O'Leary (1980) have indicated that spousal violence is significantly correlated with behavioral problems among 10-year-old boys. Mangold and Koski (1990) suggest that boys who report the most father-to-mother violence also acknowledge committing the most violent acts outside the home. However, these researchers did not find this relationship to be significant among girls. …

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