Kids in violent homes often think those who get hit deserve it

June 13, 2017
Contact: Jared Wadley

Illustration of man hitting women by Kaitlyn BeukemaIllustration of man hitting women Image Credit: Kaitlyn BeukemaANN ARBOR—Children who witness domestic violence may believe that people who get hit deserve the physical or verbal abuse, a new University of Michigan study found.

Many children live in homes where they are exposed to their parent being hit, slapped, pushed or threatened with a gun or knife by a current or former romantic partner. The research analyzed what attitudes and beliefs were prevalent in such homes and specifically looked at beliefs around whether that behavior was acceptable.

Two groups participated in the trial: one that consisted of 120 women and children exposed to domestic violence in Southeast Michigan and Southern Ontario; and a second group involving 78 Spanish-speaking women from Southeast Michigan, Northern Ohio and a Texas-Mexico border city.

The children, between the ages of 4-12, answered questions about whether they think those who are hit deserve to be hit and about who is to blame for violence. Mothers were asked about depressive symptoms experienced in the last two weeks.

Depression and levels of violence were high among the families. Surprisingly, despite being victims of violence, these mothers often did not resort to spanking their children. They instead preferred to engage in positive parenting.

Some children interviewed believe fighting is the only way to solve problems and that it’s always the kids’ fault when the parents fight.

But there were some children who did not believe violence was deserved. In fact, these kids appeared to have developed some resiliency to domestic violence exposure, but there is still no clear answer regarding how or why that happened, says Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, U-M associate professor of social work and the study’s lead author.

He says more research is needed to create interventions that more effectively target children’s thinking about violence.

The study’s other authors are Sara Stein, who is in the joint doctoral program in social work and clinical science; Hannah Clark and Maria Galano, both in the doctoral program in clinical psychology; and Sandra Graham-Bermann, professor of psychology.

The findings appear in the current issue of Journal of Child and Family Studies.


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