Young mother-father dyads and maternal harsh parenting behavior

Yookyong Lee, Neil B. Guterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: This study examined whether the age of parents predicted maternal harsh parenting behavior, specifically whether younger mothers might be at higher risk than older mothers, and which paternal characteristics might be associated with maternal parenting behavior. Methodology: This study used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) study. In the present study, the authors examined a subsample of families for which complete data were available on all variables that were used in the analyses (n= 1,597). Based on the parents' age at the time of the child's birth, mother-father age-dyad types were classified, and selected paternal factors were used to examine their association with maternal harsh parenting behavior. Psychological aggression, physical aggression, and self-reports of spanking were used as proxies for maternal harsh parenting behavior. Results: Multivariate analyses indicated that adolescent mothers, regardless of how old their partners were, were at higher risk for harsh parenting behavior than older adult mothers. Regarding paternal factors, paternal coercion against mother and the fathers' use of spanking were significantly associated with all three proxies for maternal harsh parenting behavior. Fathers' employment was a risk factor for maternal physical aggression. Conclusion: This study supported findings from previous studies that younger mothers may indeed be at greater risk for harsh parenting behavior. It is critical, therefore, that they acquire appropriate parenting behavior and develop a healthy relationship with their children. Additional studies, both cross-sectional and longitudinal, are needed to involve their partners (i.e., their child's father) in order to shed light on ways of preventing harsh parenting behavior and examining the role of fathers in maternal parenting behavior. Practice implications: The present study calls for more attention to sex education and intervention programs in school and health care settings as important components of prevention services. Practitioners need to better understand the concept of harsh parenting behavior in order to work with young parents and prevent future physical child abuse. Policy makers should support these efforts and research should be done that engages both mothers and fathers and seeks to enhance and modify existing programs for youths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)874-885
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2010


  • Fragile families and child
  • Maternal harsh parenting behavior
  • Mother-father dyads
  • Wellbeing study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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