MONDAY, Feb. 6, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Parents who set an example that any form of violence -- including spanking -- is unacceptable are more likely to bring up children who don't get into fights or other forms of violence, researchers report.
But their study also found that this type of childrearing isn't always the norm in American families.
"Almost 40 percent of parents in the study population said they would tell their child it is OK to hit if another person pushes or hits him or her," said lead researcher Dr. Sally-Ann Ohene, formerly of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
"This suggests that for a significant number of these parents, advising their child to fight back is [considered] the best way" to deal with violence, she said.
According to Ohene, children often heed that advice and do what they think is expected -- fight.
On the other hand, parents who do not hit their children and who state categorically that hitting is wrong are sending a clear message that children can also understand and accept, the researchers say.
They published their findings in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The study is based on a 2003 survey of 134 children 10 to 15 years old and their parents living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.
The parent-child pairs were culled from eight outpatient pediatric practices in urban and suburban areas covering a wide socio-economic range.
The researchers found a clear inverse relationship between parental attitudes toward violence and their children's history of fighting: The more accepting the parent was toward violence, the more prone the child was to engage in violent scuffles. Similar results were found for the use of corporal punishment in the home, such as spanking.
The results are interesting but predictable, said Daniel W. Webster, associate professor at the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
"It is very consistent with other research about the cycle of violence," he said. "In homes where there is physical violence between parents, or parent to child, that increases the likelihood that they will have problems with increased violence."
Webster stressed, however, that "most children who do experience violence do not go on to violence -- but it certainly increases the risk."
It's also important to note that what behaviors parents expect from their child, and what their children believe their parents want, can be two very different things, said Dr. Iris Wagman Borowsky, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota and the senior author of the study.
"What a child thinks a parent expects of him is more important than what a parent actually thinks," she said. "We find this is true for violence as well as other risk behaviors," including sexual activity and substance abuse.
"It just makes good sense to talk with your child about how you feel about these issues," she said.
To learn more about risk factors for youth violence, as well as protective factors, go to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.