Physical abuse during adolescence: Gender differences in the adolescents' perceptions of family functioning and parenting

Suzanne Sunday, Victor Labruna, Sandra Kaplan, David Pelcovitz, Jennifer Newman, Suzanne Salzinger
Child Abuse & Neglect 2008, 32 (1): 5-18

OBJECTIVE: To examine the relationship between physical abuse of adolescents and parenting by mothers and fathers and whether the association differs by gender.

METHODS: Subjects were adolescents, 51 girls and 45 boys, documented by Child Protective Services (CPS) as physically abused during adolescence. Comparison subjects were non-abused adolescents, 47 girls and 48 boys, from the same suburban communities. Subjects completed the following: Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale, Parental Bonding Instrument, modified Conflict Tactics Scale (assessing physical abuse/punishment by each parent).

RESULTS: Although CPS generally cited fathers as the abuse perpetrators, abused boys and girls often reported experiencing physical maltreatment from both parents. Not surprisingly, comparison subjects rated parents more positively than abused subjects. For both groups, mothers were perceived as more caring and less controlling, were reported to have closer relationships with their adolescents, and were less likely to use abuse/harsh punishment than were fathers. Differences between the adolescents' perceptions of mothers and fathers were more pronounced for abused than for comparison subjects. Boys' and girls' perceptions of parenting were generally similar except that girls, especially the abused girls, reported feeling less close to fathers. Abused girls also viewed mothers as less caring than the other groups viewed mothers. Abused girls were also less likely than abused boys to perceive that either parent, but particularly fathers, had provided them with an optimum style of parenting.

CONCLUSIONS: Adolescents who experienced relatively mild physical abuse reported dysfunctional family relationships, which may place them at risk of poor adult outcomes. Adolescents' reports suggest that CPS reports may underestimate physical maltreatment by mothers.

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