Parent-child violence results in future relationship violence


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In a study by two ISU professors, 98 percent of participants said they did not have violent relationships. Further questions found they were unaware of their dangerous partners.

Bailey Mcgrath

Name-calling, verbally attacking, spitting and manipulation are all aspects of a psychologically abusive relationship.

Individuals experiencing these encounters may not realize they are in a violent relationship, and this occurrs too often, said two ISU researchers.

Brenda Lohman and Tricia Neppl, professors of human development and family studies, are authors of one of the first studies that looks into relationship violence across generations.

Lohman and Neppl used data from the Iowa Youth and Family Project, a study that has gone on for more than 30 years with more than 400 families. 

They were able to look at how a person was parented as an adolescent, and their romantic relationships down the road.

A lot of literature talks about being exposed to domestic violence or psychological abuse in the home and then modeling that behavior in future relationships, said Lohman.

“But we did not find that relationship. What we found that was important was psychological abuse to the child from the parent,” Lohman said. “That’s a really new finding. It basically means that that parent-child relationship is important not only for the developmental outcomes, but also for their romantic relationships for the future.”

Lohman and Neppl were able to find predictors for psychological violence in future relationships from experiences during adolescence.

“If they were parented in a psychologically violent way, if they were under family stress and if they didn’t do well academically,” Neppl said. 

“Those were the three main findings that predicted whether or not the adolescent would be treating their romantic partner in the future in an equally psychologically violent way.”

In part of the research project, low-income youth in high-poverty inner-city neighborhoods were followed. The results showed that increased numbers of sexual partners, antisocial behaviors and drug and alcohol use increased the likelihood of psychologically violent behaviors as well.

Studies have also found that girls are more likely to be perpetrators of psychological violence, said the researchers.

“Statistics show that one out of four adolescents are in a violent relationship,” Neppl said. “About 30 percent of college students have experienced some kind of aggression in a relationship. The evidence shows it’s absolutely out there.”

Neppl and Lohman said prevention and intervention are a must when it comes to relationship violence.

“One effort from a prevention perspective is teaching acceptable and positive romantic relationship skills at young ages,” Lohman said. “Also hoping to intervene somehow in romantic relationships so the abuse doesn’t go from psychological to physical.”

Education is also very important; kids need to be taught at a young age what is acceptable behavior in any relationship, Neppl and Lohman said. These could be things like bullying prevention efforts or relationship classes as young as elementary or middle school age.

“In a study we did a few years ago with several hundred couples here at Iowa State we asked one simple question: ‘Are you in a violent relationship or not?’” Lohman said. “Ninety-eight percent of them said no, and then we gave them questions like: ‘Do you call them names; has your cell phone been damaged?’ And the students would answer yes to some of these questions.”

Many of these students were in violent relationships, but were oblivious to it.

“This was very eye-opening to me that some individuals did not consider these relationships violent and these were potentially acceptable behaviors to them,” Lohman said. “We need to talk about what is acceptable and not in a healthy relationship.”

If a student feels they are in a psychologically or physically abusive relationship, Iowa State offers counseling services that he or she can seek along with the Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support, said Lohman.