Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Katarina Ament, Beth A. Kotchick, Ph.D., Alison A. Papadakis, Ph.D.

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Parental Warmth, Behavioral Control, and Psychological Control as Predictors of Physical and Relational Aggression in Middle School Children

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Aggression is becoming a serious problem in the United States. From the 1950s to the 2000s, rates of aggression among children and adolescents have increased in both frequency and severity (Connor, 2002). Estimated rates of aggressive behaviors in children under the age of 6 range from 7 to 26 percent (Caspi, Moffitt, Newman, & Silva, 1996). Aggressive behavior is associated with a number of negative consequences. Studies indicate that aggressive children are less likely to maintain high grades in school and are at increased risk for various psychopathologies, juvenile delinquency, and adult criminology (Bierman et al., 2002; Broidy et al., 2003; Caspi et al., 1996).

Research indicates that positive parenting styles may protect against the development of aggressive behaviors in children and subsequent negative outcomes. For example, parents who are cold, rejecting, and physically punitive are more likely to have aggressive children than parents who are warm, supportive, and authoritative. In addition, parents who establish a warm, nurturing environment are more likely to have psychologically well-adjusted children (Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Pepler & Rubin, 1991). Warm, non-coercive parenting styles may serve as a protective factor, decreasing the likelihood of aggressive behaviors in at risk children, such as those from with low income families (Benzies, Keown, & Magill-Evans, 2009; Mosley & Thompson, 1995).

Studies have found that parental warmth, behavioral control, and psychological control are related to physical aggression in children (e.g., Benzies et al., 2009; Casas et al., 2006; Nelson, Hart, Yang, Olsen, & Jin, 2006; Rubin, Burgess, Dwyer, & Hastings, 2003). However, the relation between these parental factors and relational aggression is unclear. Furthermore, few studies have examined the unique contribution of maternal and paternal parenting styles as they relate to physical and relational aggression. The proposed study will examine the unique contribution of maternal and paternal warmth, behavioral control, and psychological control as they relate to both physical and relational aggression, and child gender will also be examined as a potential moderator of these relations.

In addition, the majority of research on physical and relational aggression utilizes very young population samples or students from public schools (e.g., Benzies et al., 2009; Casas et al., 2006; Kuppens, Gietens, Onghena, & Michiels, 2009). The proposed study will examine the association between parenting and aggression in a sample of middle school students from private Catholic schools in Baltimore, Maryland. The incorporation of religion into the learning environment may differentially influence children’s positive or negative views regarding aggressive behavior, as well as their likelihood of aggressing toward others.    

Finally, the majority of studies on physical and relational aggression utilize observational methods or parent reports (e.g., Booth, Rose-Krasnor, McKinnon, & Rubin, 1994; Rubin et al., 2003; Underwood, Beron, Gentsch, Galperin, & Risser, 2008). Few studies have examined the relation between the child’s perception of parenting behaviors and physical and relational aggression. The proposed study will examine children’s perception of parental warmth, behavioral control, and psychological control as they relate to physical and relational aggression.