Cycle of violence

Researchers have long known that children who grow up in an aggressive or violent household are more likely to become violent or aggressive in future relationships. What has not been so clear is the developmental link between witnessing aggressive behavior as a child and carrying it out as an adult. What changes occur in a child that affect whether he or she will choose to deal with conflict in aggressive or violent ways? According to researchers from Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, children who grow up in aggressive households may learn to process social information differently than their peers who grow up in non-aggressive environments. "Children with high-conflict parents are more likely to think that aggressive responses would be good ways to handle social conflicts," said John Bates, a professor of psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and a co-author of the study. "This partly explains why they are more likely as young adults to have conflict in their own romantic relationships." Unlocking the developmental link between growing up in an aggressive or violent household and becoming the perpetrator of such behavior could prove useful for stopping the cycle of violence.

According to Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, professor of psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and another co-author of the study, this research has implications for treatment and prevention. "For example, treatments for male batterers may want to address a person's ability to evaluate his responses to certain social situations," said Holtzworth-Munroe. Bates cautions that this research is just one piece of the puzzle. "This is probably not the only factor mediating this association. We want to know how these processes work alongside other factors, such as emotional regulation, social skills or genetic processes," he said.


Bates began collecting data for this study in 1987. Parents and children were recruited from Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn., and Bloomington, Ind. When the children were five, they and their parents were interviewed. At ages 13 and 16, the adolescent offspring were presented with hypothetical social situations and asked to express their perceptions and reactions to the events as well as predict what they would have done in the situation. From ages 18-21, the offspring reported on the amount of aggressive behavior in their romantic relationships. Researchers continue to follow participants and plan on using this data set for future studies.

The study, "Social Information Processing Mediates the Intergenerational Transmission of Aggressiveness in Romantic Relationships," appears in the June issue of the Journal of Family Psychology. Co-authors are lead author Jennifer Fite, Indiana University; Kenneth Dodge and Sandra Nay, Duke University; and Gregory Pettit, Auburn University.

For a copy of the study, please visit

Cardio tennis

For a fitter body to match their tennis goals, tennis enthusiasts have been turning to cardio tennis -- a group exercise class that combines tennis drills, some coaching and 40 minutes of constant motion -- to take their game to the next level. Like other group exercise classes, cardio tennis adds a social element to a strong workout. "The network of people they can play with really increases," said Chris Chopra, assistant tennis professional at the Indiana University Tennis Center. "They know they're going to have a good workout and a good time, finding people with similar skill levels." Chopra said the hour-long class usually begins with a 10-minute warm-up that includes dynamic stretches, shuffling, the grapevine and other movements designed to get the heart pumping faster. Then for 40 minutes, participants are in constant motion, performing fast-paced agility drills to improve footwork, jumping rope and doing sit-ups and other strengthening exercises. Participants often participate in fast-paced point play, which involves playing an opponent or doubles for one point and then quickly moving on to more drills. Chopra says the class ends with a 10-minute cool down, often involving easy volleys or practice serving, and then stretching. The class is suitable for all ages and abilities but requires that participants have some experience playing tennis. "The program is designed to get people back into the game -- or started, " Chopra said.

Chopra is certified by the United States Professional Tennis Association as a tennis teaching professional. The IU Tennis Center is part of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Teens and sex

A lot has changed in 20 years. One example is technology -- teenagers are connecting faster and with more frequency than ever before. They are also absorbing exuberant amounts of images from the media. Indiana University sexual health expert Catherine Sherwood-Laughlin says sex education is critical these days -- and it needs to begin at home. "Schools are not completely responsible for a child's sexuality education; the sexuality education begins at home and the parents need to be the primary sex educators for their children," said Sherwood-Laughlin, whose research involves adolescent sexual behaviors. "Parents need to set the morals, values and expectations, as well as provide education, while the schools need to provide medically accurate information and also support abstinence as the best choice for teens."

Sherwood-Laughlin offers parents the following information and insights: The basics: According to the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), almost half of all high school students have had sexual intercourse during their lifetimes. Of these, 7.1percent had sexual intercourse for the first time before the age of thirteen. About 13 percent of high school students have ever been tested for HIV, but 89.5 percent have been taught about HIV and AIDS infection. "The CDC results show that males are more likely than females to have ever had sexual intercourse, had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13, had intercourse with four or more lifetime sex partners and drank alcohol during last sexual intercourse. Whereas females were less likely to use a condom during last sexual intercourse among those students who were sexually active," Sherwood-Laughlin said.

The pressure is on: According to Sherwood-Laughlin, the media puts a lot of pressure on teenagers to have sex. "There aren't any consequences to premature sexual activity in the media, so teens receive mixed messages. They need adults in their lives to help clear up those messages," says Sherwood-Laughlin.

Sex education: Evaluate what type of sex education your child is receiving -- at home and in school. "Parents need to know what is being taught to their children, regardless of their age and type of program," said Sherwood-Laughlin. "If there are teens who are, have been or will be sexually active, then they (parents and schools) need to provide information about how to prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and how to deal with all of the emotions and feelings that accompany sexual intimacy."

The link between substance use and risky sexual behavior: According to the 2007 YRBSS, 22.5 percent of high school students drank alcohol or used drugs before their last sexual intercourse. "We know that people are less likely to make good decisions while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol," says Sherwood-Laughlin. "If teens are attending parties or other social events where there aren't responsible adults supervising, that can lead to teens taking risks and/or making poor decisions."

The lingo is changing: "It's very interesting that there is a whole new language due to text messaging and the way teens communicate with today's technology," says Sherwood-Laughlin. "There are new words related to sex and sexual activity that parents need to know so they can understand their teens and their friends." Sherwood-Laughlin recommends visiting the following sites for more information:



webmd/parenting/guide/glossary-teen-slang. Despite the current trends involving teens and sex, one issue remains the same: "The teenage years are years of instability, changes in growth and development, changes in responsibilities and many transitions, so teens need as much support and help as they can get so they can make good decisions and understand all of the outcomes/consequences of their decisions," Sherwood-Laughlin said.


Sherwood-Laughlin is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

Source: John Bates
Indiana University

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