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Journal Article


Cornell CP, Gelles RJ. Urban and social change review 1982; 15(1): 8-14.


(Copyright © 1982)






VioLit summary:

The goal of this article by Cornell and Gelles was to examine violence from adolescents toward their parents and how this varied by gender of child and parent, age, and relationships with other forms of family problems.

A quasi-experimental research design was used in which surveys were given to a nationally representative sample of families. 2143 families were originally part of this study that was conducted in 1976; this article only examined the 608 families that had at least 1 child between 10 and 17. The original 2143 families were interviewed as part of a comprehensive study of violence. A multi-stage, stratified sampling design was used in which a national sample of 103 primary areas (counties or groups of counties), stratified by geographic region, type of community, and other population characteristics, were initially selected. Within primary areas, 300 interview locations (census districts or blockgroups) were selected; each location was divided into 10-25 housing units by the trained interviewers. Sample segments from each interviewing location were selected, and the last step involved randomly selecting an eligible person for interviewing from each eligible household. The interview was conducted with the mother in 315 of the families and the father in 293 of the families selected in the subsample. Data on physical violence was collected for only one child with a random numbers table used for the selection of the child when there were more than one in the family. Violence towards parents was measured using the Conflict Tactics Scales which generated three measures of violence toward parents. First, referred to as the "overall violence index," included all acts of physical violence ranging from slapping a parent to using a knife or gun. The second, the "severe violence index," included only those items from the overall index where there was a high probability of a violent act causing injury to the parent; this included whether, in the 12 months prior to the interview, the child had ever kicked, punched, bit, hit with an object, beaten up, or threatened or used a gun or a knife against the parent. The third measure was the "violence severity index" which was an index compiled of frequency of each act of violence by the different forms of violence; each form of violence was weighted according to the severity of the act. Chi-square was used to analyze the data.

9% of the parents of adolescents reported that their children had used at least one form of violence at least once in the previous year; 3% of the adolescents were reported to have engaged in acts of severe violence ranging from punching, kicking, or biting, to the use of a knife or gun. The authors projected from these to estimate that more than 2.5 million adolescents were reported as having struck a parent at least once, and 900,000 had been involved in acts of severe violence against a parent. Sons were slightly more likely to be violent (11% vs. 7%) and to use severe violence (3.4% vs 2.8%) towards their parents than were daughters, but these findings were not statistically significant. No differences in rates of males and females was found in ages 10 and 11, but every age cohort older than 11 showed males with higher rates of overall violence toward parents. Mothers were more likely to be struck by their adolescent children than were fathers (11% vs. 7%) and were also more likely to be victims of severe violence (5% vs. 1%). Mothers were almost equally the victim of violence from sons or daughters, while fathers were more often the victim of violence from sons. To examine the intergenerational transmission of violence, the violence severity index was used; it was argued that children would be more likely to use violence against their parents if they had been the victim or witness of family violence. Significant relationships were found (p<.001) between the rate of adolescent to parent severity and the violence severity the child experienced as well as directly related to the rates of interspousal violence severity. Father's occupation, total family income, and whether any child in the home had been suspended from school were found to be related to the rate of violence severity. Fathers employed as clerical workers had families with the greatest rates of high violence severity; blue collar men had families with the most moderate violence severity. Middle income families had the highest rate of violence severity followed by lower income families. In general, social, family structural, and situational factors which have been found to be associated with adult violence in families were either not or only weakly related to violence by adolescents. AUTHORS' RECOMMENDATIONS:
The authors advocated more attention to the issue of violence against parents from researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. Social service and criminal justice agencies, the authors argued, should take steps to assist victims of family violence, including parents. Future research, it was suggested, should explore the social situational aspects of violent children as well as of parents. EVALUATION:
The incidence of abuse of parents was striking as was the relationship between other family violence and this particular form of violence. What is presented here is a large, representative sample that can be generalized to the general population. The fact that this study was cross-sectional, as the authors discussed, hinders the ability to make solid causal arguments. The constraints of working within the data not designed specifically for this particular study were also weaknesses identified by the authors. A data analysis model that would have entered in the sum of variables and controlled for simultaneous effects would have been helpful; for example, to sort out the relationship between occupation and income and violence. Clearly, some of this could be done with more currently used techniques of analysis. The findings in this article are somewhat dated--at least 15 years old--which makes further research, including longitudinal designs, even more needed. (CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)

KW - 1970s
KW - Parent Child Relations
KW - Family Relations
KW - Juvenile Offender
KW - Juvenile Violence
KW - Parent Abuse Offender
KW - Parent Abuse Causes
KW - Family Environment
KW - Domestic Violence Offender
KW - Domestic Violence Causes
KW - Parent Victim
KW - Offender Characteristics

Language: en


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