Study Shows Strong Maternal Bonds Help Shield Teens from Abusive Relationships

Love from mothers specifically can help teens avoid abusive situations.

mom helping daughter, parent divorce

You don't need to be a psychologist to know that, unfortunately, people who grow up in abusive households often gravitate towards abusive relationships as they grow up. Oftentimes, the onus is placed on an abusive father, and mothers tend to feel they can't do much to shield their children from repeating the cycle. Now, a new study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggests otherwise. Researchers out of the University of Buffalo found that a strong maternal bond can help prevent teens from entering abusive relationships or becoming abusive themselves.

The researchers, led by University of Buffalo School of Nursing associate professor Jennifer Livingston, surveyed more than 140 adolescents whose parents were married or living together at the time of their birth. The teens are part of an ongoing study on the development of the children of alcoholic parents, so half of these teens had at least one parent who was an alcoholic, and it was most often their father. Livingston said in a statement that "although parental alcoholism has not been directly linked to teen dating violence, children growing up in alcoholic families experience greater exposure to marital conflict and harsh parenting in comparison to children from non-alcoholic families." Meaning that, children who grow up around alcoholism are often also dealing with an abusive household environment.

The researchers checked in with their teen subjects in eighth grade and in their last year of high school, surveying the rates of marital conflict between their parents, their experiences with dating violence, and their relationships with their mothers. What they found was that those who experienced acceptance and care from their mothers were less likely to be involved in violent romantic relationships, even if they witnessed a large amount of marital conflict.

While further research on the topic needs to be done, these results suggest that "positive parenting behaviors characterized by acceptance and warmth" from mothers can "help children form positive internal working models of themselves as lovable and worthy of respect."

If you or someone you know is dealing with abuse at home, please read 12 Ways to Get Help if You're a Victim of Domestic Abuse for expert advice on how to seek help.

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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