Marriages May Make Violent Children
by Jennifer Warner, WebMD Medical News, July 02, 2004
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violent marriages may be more than twice as likely to set fires
intentionally or be cruel to animals than those from nonviolent
homes, according to new research.
The study shows that problems in the family, especially violent
behavior among father figures, significantly increase the risk
of fire setting and animal cruelty in children, and these
behaviors set the stage for later adolescent delinquency.
Researchers say childhood fire setting and animal cruelty may be
linked to childhood psychological problems such as ADHD or
conduct disorder, which may lead to later chronic criminal
behavior, but few studies have looked at the relationship
between these behaviors and family risk factors.
This study suggests that the relationship between fire setting
and animal cruelty and juvenile delinquency is potentially
strong, and any sign of these behaviors should be taken
seriously and addressed at an early age.
Family Factors Tied to Fire Setting, Animal Cruelty
In the study, researchers followed a group of about 300 battered
women and their children for 10 years and asked them
periodically about family life and any problem behavior in their
The results appear in the July issue of the Journal of the
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology.
The study showed that children from homes with violent marriages
were 2.4 times more likely to set fires than those residing in
nonviolent homes. Children from homes where the mother's partner
harmed pets or drank large quantities of alcohol were also more
likely to engage in fire-setting behavior.
In addition, researchers found that children from violent homes
were 2.3 times more likely to be cruel to animals, and harsh
parenting from either parent also increased the risk of animal
Over time, the study showed that children who set fires were
nearly four times more likely than non-fire setters to be
referred to juvenile court in adolescence, and they were nearly
five times as likely be arrested for a violent crime.
The researchers did not find a relationship between childhood
cruelty to animals and a referral to juvenile court for an
offense. However, animal abusers were twice as likely to commit
a violent offense such as assault or possession of a weapon.
The researchers show that a diagnosis of conduct disorder was
more than six times higher in children who set fires and more
than five times higher in children who abuse animals.
"These findings converge with those from other studies generally
linking family dysfunction and childhood conduct disorders,"
write researcher Kimberly D. Becker, PhD, of the University of
Hawaii, and colleagues. "An intriguing finding is that most of
the significant family variables were associated with partner
"Future research should investigate the mechanisms by which a
violent antisocial man in the home contributes to a child's
firesetting and animal cruelty," they write.
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