Boys who have been physically neglected are at greater risk of becoming violent teenagers than even those who have suffered from physical abuse, according to researchers at Penn State studying incarcerated male adolescents.
Examples of physical neglect include not taking a sick or injured child to the doctor, improperly clothing a child, and not feeding a child.
“One of the problems with studying neglect is that it is an act of omission, rather than one of commission. In other words, it is characterized as the absence of an act, rather than an actual act of mistreatment,” said William McGuigan, Ph.D., associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State Shenango. “However, now we have better measures and larger databases to document neglect.”
Researchers are just beginning to realize the powerful affects of neglect in influencing adolescent violence, he added. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.
The findings showed that although physical abuse is a strong contributor to violent behavior, physical neglect alone is an even greater predictor of male adolescent violence than physical abuse, or even physical abuse and neglect combined.
“It sounds somewhat contrarian, but the physical abuse might at least show that parents are paying some type of attention to the child,” said McGuigan.
He noted that understanding how neglect can influence violent behavior in teen males may lead to better education for caregivers and better care for at-risk youths.
For the study, researchers analyzed data taken from a survey of 85 residents in a Pennsylvania detention center for delinquent males. In the survey, 25 of the participants, or 29.4 percent of the group, said that they experienced at least one incidence of childhood neglect. Acts of violence included fighting with students or parents, hitting teachers or instructors, and using a weapon to scare, rob, or injure another person.
“We have to look more into neglect and become more aware of how it may cause some of these violent behaviors,” said McGuigan. “From that, we can build early preventative care programs than can help avoid these negative outcomes.”
The research could also lead to assessments that, for example, might help protect people who care for adolescents by identifying those who are more prone to violence.
“Sexual abuse was not included in the survey. Only two participants reported that they were sexually abused in the survey, which was not enough to study,” McGuigan said.
Source: Penn State