Aggressive Teens – Permissive and Absent Parents

Educators and public officials know all too well that when young people turn aggressive—in their attitudes or in their physical behavior—it causes trouble, for others and for themselves. But what social circumstances incubate such aggressiveness in children? A new study out of the University of Texas at Dallas suggests that parents foster social aggression in their teen children when they opt for the permissive style of parenting long favored by progressive freethinkers and that they catalyze both social and physical aggression in their offspring when they break up, leaving just one parent bearing the burden of child-rearing. Clarifying the need for the study they have conducted, the Dallas researchers point out that “Children and adolescents who behave aggressively are at greater risk for psychological maladjustment, conduct problems, and incarceration.” To determine which children are most likely to experience such long-term difficulties, the researchers look at two different types of aggression, both of which begin to appear among children about the time they enter preschool: 1) social aggression, manifest in behaviors such as “social exclusion, manipulating friendships, and malicious gossip,” behaviors “designed to cause harm to an individual’s social status or friendships”; and 2) physical aggression, evident in behaviors such as hitting, kicking, and biting. Interested in the evolution of aggression across time, the researchers track the trajectories of both types in a sample of 158 girls and 138 boys ages 9 to 18, all students in a large ethnically diverse public school system in the southern United States. The authors of this study find that such parental permissiveness breeds social aggression. “Permissive parenting,” report the researchers, “was a predictor of [children’s] following the high social aggression trajectory.” Unpacking this finding a bit, the researchers explain that “permissive parenting in middle childhood
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