When Parents Model Violence: The Relationship Between Witnessing Weapon Use as a Child and Later Use as an Adult

Amy R. Murrell, Rhonda M. Merwin, Karen A. Christoff, Kris R. Henning


Studies have demonstrated that witnessing inter-parental violence as a child is related to a number of negative outcomes, including violent and aggressive behavior as an adult (Fantuzzo, DePaola, Lambert, & Martino, 1991; Graham-Bermann & Levendosky, 1998; Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Some investigators have purported that observational learning is responsible for this perpetuation of violent behavior in families (Grych & Fincham, 1990; Holtzworth-Munroe & Stuart, 1994). However, existing data is far from conclusive. This short study was designed to address some of the discrepancies. The researchers chose to examine a specific occurrence, weapon use, due to the severity of the behavior. A main intent of this study was to raise questions about the extensive use of weapons in violent families. Participants were 362 male domestic violence offenders court-ordered to undergo assessment of the likelihood of recidivism. Selected items from the Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, 1979) were used to assess childhood witnessing and adult engagement in a target violent behavior. A chi-square was performed to examine the relationship between childhood witnessing of a parent's threat or use of a weapon in a domestic violence incident and adulthood threat or use of a weapon against an intimate partner. The relationship was significant. Men who reported witnessing threat or use of a weapon in parental violence were more likely than not to have threatened to use or have actually used a weapon against an intimate partner. Findings also indicate that most men who committed weapon offenses did not report witnessing such in childhood. This raises interesting questions about other factors that may relate to weapon use.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/bsi.v14i2.359

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