VIII. Child Maltreatment
Past research has established that there is a tendency for adults to repeat the abuse they experienced as a child (Heyman & Slep, 2002). This phenomenon is often labeled “the cycle of violence.” Although most victims of childhood abuse do not go on to abuse their offspring, they are 10 to 15 times more likely to be abusive parents than persons who were not exposed to abusive parenting. The most popular explanation for this finding involves the idea of modeling, from social learning theory. It is assumed that children observe the behavior of their parents and consider it to be normal or typical parental behavior. Later, when they achieve adulthood, they are likely to use these parenting scripts in a reflexive, rather unthinking fashion when parenting their own children.
Recently, some scholars have argued, largely on the basis of work by criminologists, for an alternative explanation for the cycle of violence phenomenon. These researchers argue that abusive parenting fosters a general antisocial orientation instead of simply teaching a dysfunctional approach to parenting. Abusive parenting is seen as increasing the chances that a person will grow up to engage in a wide variety of criminal and deviant behaviors, including harsh and abusive parenting practices. Furthermore, there is evidence that males who were the victims of harsh parenting practices have an increased risk of perpetrating intimate partner violence and sexual coercion (L. G. Simons, Burt, & Simons, 2008).
These two points of view suggest very different images of the abusive parent. The modeling perspective portrays perpetrators as ordinary citizens, conventional in all respects except for their abusive behavior. Scholars who support the antisocial orientation point of view, on the other hand, argue that most abusive parents are far from being ordinary; instead, parents who engage in extreme abusive practices are likely to have a history of involvement in a wide variety of criminal and deviant behaviors as well. We will have to wait for future research to establish which viewpoint is more correct.