Abstract: Psychologically Aggressive Parenting and Early Delinquency Among 9-Year Old Children (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

Psychologically Aggressive Parenting and Early Delinquency Among 9-Year Old Children

Friday, January 15, 2016: 1:45 PM
Meeting Room Level-Mount Vernon Square B (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
* noted as presenting author
Kathleen Pirozzolo-Fay, JD, Doctoral Student, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Lenna Nepomnyaschy, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background: Parental spanking and other forms of corporal punishment are associated with a number of subsequent child behavior problems, including aggression in younger children and delinquency in older children. Much less is known about the effects of psychological aggression by parents on child outcomes, though this type of harsh parenting may be even more prevalent than harsh physical discipline. A recent national survey of families in large cities reveals that more than one-quarter of 9-year old children  report psychological aggression  by their mothers either daily (just over 10%) or a few times per week (approximately 17%).  This study takes advantage of longitudinal data to examine the associations of parents’ psychological aggression and early delinquency behaviors among 9-year old children in the US.

Methods:   Data come from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which follows approximately 5000 children born in large US cities till age 9.  The analysis sample includes youth who were interviewed at the nine year wave of the study and completed self-reports on their early delinquency behaviors and their mothers’ parenting practices.  Early delinquency is measured as a dichotomous variable based on youth’s responses as to whether they had participated in 17 behaviors.  In addition to overall delinquency, we also consider separately violent, non-violent, and school related delinquency. Psychological aggression is measured as a categorical variable based on youth’s report of the frequency of yelling and swearing by their mothers.   Analyses control for a rich set of demographic, child, parent, and family characteristics across earlier waves of the study. In order to address unmeasured differences between children who report psychologically aggressive parenting and those who do not and potential reverse causality, in supplementary models, we include measures of aggressive behavior at the prior wave and measure harsh parenting at prior waves.

Results:  Logistic regression results yielded significant associations between psychological aggression and overall early delinquency as well as the three delinquency subtypes.  Bivariate logistic regression indicated that youth who reported frequent psychological aggression had close to 2.5 times the odds of engaging in early delinquency as those who reported no psychological aggression.  After controlling for the full set of parent, child, family, and demographic characteristics, youth who reported frequent psychological aggression had approximately 2 times greater odds of engaging in early delinquent behaviors.  Further, the association between psychological aggression and delinquent behaviors remained robust for each delinquency subtype.

Conclusions and Implications: This study contributes important information to the body of research showing strong negative effects of harsh parenting on children’s health and development. While much of the attention of the policy and social work community has focused on the effects of physical discipline, there has been much less focus on the negative outcomes associated with psychologically aggressive parenting. Given the very high prevalence of this type of parenting (>25%), these findings point to the need for social workers, policymakers, and child advocates to address the issue of psychologically aggressive parenting  in education and prevention efforts aimed at reducing child maltreatment and increasing child well-being.