A new study of family violence suggests teenagers respond better when they believe they are making a difference in family dynamics.

When the teen believes that they matter to their family, they are significantly less likely to threaten or engage in family violence.

Research by Brown University sociologist Dr. Gregory Elliott used the term “mattering” to mean the belief that persons make a difference in the world around them. This concept is frequently used as a theme for high schoolers approaching graduation and entry into the real world — for them, the belief that they can make a difference is critical to self-esteem and self-motivation.

When the concept is applied internally to family dynamics, a teen’s self-worth is often a function of perceived family love – does the family invest time and resource in the teen, is the teen looked upon as a positive asset or resource for the family?

Elliot analyzed data from telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,004 adolescents, age 11-18, as part of the 2000 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

His analysis determined that failing to matter to one’s family increases the probability of violence, whereas a strong feeling of mattering is likely to protect the adolescent from engaging in violent behavior toward a family member.

The study is found in the Journal of Family Issues.

Among the findings:

  • Girls hit family members more than boys do;
  • Compared to the average respondent, Hispanic youth are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to commit violence in the home;
  • Children from larger families are more likely to use violence; if religion is important in one’s life, the likelihood of family violence diminishes;
  • Children whose parents did postgraduate study are more likely to enact violence than those whose parents did not finish high school.

Researchers believe “mattering” makes a difference because of the effect on both self-esteem and on one’s attitude toward violence, which ultimately determines one’s violent behavior.

“Mattering is the prime mover in a chain reaction involving self-esteem and attitudes toward violence,” said Elliott.

“If you don’t matter, it sets up a chain of unfortunate feelings and events that makes it difficult to get along.”

Source: Brown University