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 predicted following higher social aggression trajectories across many years, which suggests that parents setting fewer limits on children’s behaviors may have lasting consequences for their peer relations.”

Unfortunately, the same progressive philosophy prompting parents to give their children a free rein has infected many state legislators, legislators who have rewritten marital law so as to permit parents to divorce for any and all reasons. Predictably, the number of children living with just one parent has exploded. And this new study reveals that these children of single parents are especially likely to live aggressively. According to that study, “Following high trajectories of both social and physical aggression was predicted by coming from a single-parent household.”

When looking at social aggression, the Dallas scholars find that “having married parents reduced the odds of [children’s] being in either the high or medium social aggression trajectories relative to the lowest trajectory in every [time] specification.” When looking at physical aggression, the researchers likewise find that “having married parents reduced the odds of being in the high trajectory compared to the low throughout [the study period].”

As they lead their high-profile crusades against bullying, progressives never tire of expressing their horror at every kind of aggression. But as the latest research makes clear, in both their advice on parenting and their reforms of divorce law, progressives have actually been turning America’s young people into social and physical aggressors.

(Samuel E. Ehrenreich et al., “Family Predictors of Continuity and Change in Social and Physical Aggression from Ages 9 – 18,” Aggressive Behavior 40.5 [2014]: 421-39.)