Parental violence and adolescent mental health

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 Nov;19(11):813-22. doi: 10.1007/s00787-010-0130-8. Epub 2010 Sep 7.


Being the target of parental violent acts decreases child adjustment and increases the likelihood of mental health problems in childhood and adolescence. Our study analyses how different types of parental violence ranging from verbal threats and swearing to hitting and kicking a child, are associated with child adjustment, indicated by strengths and difficulties scale (SDQ) total problem score, internalizing and externalizing problems as well as prosocial behaviour. We also study whether girls and boys and youths in two Nordic countries respond differently to parental violence. The data consists of a large-scale community sample of 15-16-year old Finnish (n = 5,762) and Danish (n = 3,943) adolescents. The representative data of continental Finland and its Finnish and Swedish speaking ninth graders as well as representative data of Danish ninth grade pupils were collected by the Police College of Finland and in Denmark by the National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark. The results show a clear dose-response effect between parental violent behaviour and the adolescent's problems. The more severe forms of parental violence were associated with higher levels of SDQ total difficulties and internalizing and externalizing symptoms. There was also a connection between parental violence and the deterioration of prosocial behaviour. The association was gender and nationality specific. The findings imply a high prevalence of parental violence and adverse mental health among the affected Finnish and Danish adolescents. Though the laws have been set in motion to prevent the use of parental physical violence the challenges remain in several domains of child protection, general health care, prevention and intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Mental Health*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Social Behavior
  • Violence*