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Abstract

A survey of 151 mothers to determine characteristics of violence experienced from their children. The survey assessed the length of time they had been single parents, the age and sex of their children, the frequency and types of violence they experienced, and the influence of violent adult modeling upon the children's violence.

Findings indicate that 29% of the mothers had been assaulted by their children. The violent families contained more children than the nonviolent families, and the violent children's ages were more closely-spaced. Battered mothers also reported greater modeling of violence (the children seeing an adult striking their mother) than did mothers reporting no children's violence. Results indicate that children who witnessed modeled violence displayed more frequent and severe violence (more hits and kicks, rather than pushes or slaps) toward their mother. The implications of these findings for clinical practice are discussed.

While issues concerning domestic violence have gained great attention during the past few years, little research has been conducted on children's violence to their parents. This is surprising in light of the fact that this aspect of domestic violence was first identified and studied over 25 years ago (Sears, 1957). While a few researchers (Harbin and Maddin, 1979; Warren, 1978) have published the results of studies gathered from very small samples, and others have gathered massive quantitative data on very large samples Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz, 1980; Cornell and Gelles, 1982), none have adequately addressed characteristics of children's violence in families headed by single mothers.

An estimated 15.4% of U.S. families are now headed by single females (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1982). How frequently do children in these families strike their mothers? How severe are these assaults? Are these mothers ever injured or hospitalized? Was violent behavior modeled to these children? What is the age and sex of children most prone to assault their mothers? These questions occurred to me when I was working as a clinician in a residential adolescent treatment facility. Several teens placed in our unit had become violent at home before being placed in our care. This type of placement seemed to happen more frequently following divorces. It occurred to me that if a violent husband left the family, a large teenager might imitate that violence with the mother, in order to secure money and other desired resources. As divorces are commonplace, I began to wonder how frequently single mothers experience violence from their children. A search of the literature provided no answers regarding children's violence to single mothers. This study represents an initial effort to secure data about this growing population.

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