(Reuters Health) - When parents of boys don’t enjoy parenthood or don’t spend a lot of time playing or talking with them, their sons may be more likely to use guns in adolescence, a U.S. study suggests.
Among 503 teen boys in Pittsburgh public schools, one in five reported carrying a gun at some point during adolescence, researchers found.
Parental disengagement - caregivers who didn’t play with kids, participate in daily activities, discuss things with children, or enjoy parenting - was directly linked to teen gun carrying.
Some of this connection - about 29 percent - could be explained by related factors like childhood behavior problems or friendships with delinquent kids, the study found.
“One reason that disengaged parenting in childhood promoted gun carrying in adolescence is that parenting in childhood sets the stage for conduct problems and delinquent peer networks to emerge in early adolescence, and these early adolescent risk factors place youth at risk for gun carrying in later adolescence,” said study leader Jordan Beardslee of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
“However, only some of the effect of parental disengagement was due to the emergence of early externalizing problems and early affiliation with delinquent peers,” Beardslee said by email. “The remaining impact of parental disengagement could be due to continuity of parenting practices in later adolescence or to ... factors in adolescence.”
More than 7,000 youth are injured or killed by guns in the U.S. each year, Beardslee and colleagues note in Pediatrics.
Teens who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, have behavior problems, or have friends who get into trouble at school or with law enforcement are more likely to carry guns, previous research has found. But less is known about which childhood experiences might contribute to adolescent gun violence.
Almost all teen gun use involves boys, and the current study focused only on males.
Starting when boys were about seven and a half, researchers surveyed them every six months for four years and then annually for nine years. The boys reported any gun carrying as well as exposure to peer violence, theft or drug dealing.
During the earlier years of the study, researchers also surveyed parents about engagement levels. During adolescence, researchers surveyed teachers about any conduct or behavior problems they observed.
The study wasn’t designed to prove whether parenting styles directly impact the risk of teen gun carrying, and it also didn’t examine whether having weapons on hand might lead to firing these weapons.
Even so, previous research suggests that kids’ relationships with their parents can impact their success in school and the odds that they will get into trouble or have friends who are a bad influence and encourage antisocial behaviors, said Alex Piquero, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas who wasn’t involved in the study.
“This study clearly shows that strained parent-child relationships early in life lead to a myriad of negative behaviors that ultimately lead to an increased risk for gun carrying,” Piquero said by email. “It shows the long-term damage that parental disengagement has on their children and others around them.”
This also means parents can play an outsize role in preventing teen weapon use, Piquero said.
“The take-home message for parents could not be clearer: monitor your children’s behavior, develop strong emotional and interpersonal connections with them, and help establish their ability to control their impulses and consider the long-term outcomes of their decisions,” Piquero advised. “The earlier and more frequently that parents can do this, the better for their children and their children’s long-term life success.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2C7lbtR Pediatrics, online March 4, 2019.