Journal of Adolescent Health
Purpose: Harsh, abusive, and rejecting behavior by parents toward their children is associated with increased risk for many developmental problems for youth. Earlier research also shows that children raised by harsh parents are more likely to treat their own children harshly. The present study evaluated nurturing and supportive behaviors of spouses or cohabiting romantic partners hypothesized to strengthen co-parent relationships and help break this intergenerational cycle of harsh parenting. Methods: Data come from the Family Transitions Project, a 22-year, 3-generation study of a cohort of over 500 early adolescents (G2) grown to adulthood. During adolescence, observers rated G1 (parent of G2) harsh parenting to G2. Several years later, observers rated G2 harsh parenting toward their oldest child (G3). In addition, G2's romantic partner (spouse or cohabiting partner) was rated by observers on a range of behaviors expected to affect G2 harsh parenting. Results: Romantic partner warmth and positive communication with G2 were associated with less G2 harsh parenting toward G3 (a compensatory or main effect) and when these partner behaviors were high, there was no evidence of intergenerational continuity from G1 to G2 harsh parenting (a moderating or protective effect). G1 harsh parenting slightly decreased the likelihood that G2 would select a supportive spouse or romantic partner (evidence of cumulative continuity). Conclusions: Romantic partner warmth and positive communication appear to disrupt continuity in harsh and abusive parenting. As appropriate, preventive interventions designed to reduce risk for child maltreatment should include a focus on spousal or partner behaviors in their educational or treatment programs. (Author abstract)
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