Teenage boys were more likely to carry a gun when their parents were disengaged during their childhood, according to a new study.
Research has shown that parental disengagement (lack of warmth and involvement and poor communication) is associated with conduct problems and violence in adolescence.
Little research, however, has looked at whether parental disengagement is linked with adolescent gun carrying. To answer that question, researchers followed 503 boys from Pittsburgh public schools from first grade through age 20. They reported results today in “Parental Disengagement in Childhood and Adolescent Male Gun Carrying” (Beardslee J, et al. Pediatrics. March 4, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-1552).
The study sample included roughly equal numbers of boys who were at high risk of exhibiting severe delinquency and non-high-risk boys. About 62.5% lived with one or fewer biological parents when the study began, and 48% were receiving welfare.
When the boys were young, their parents answered questions about their level of involvement in their sons’ lives and the quality of their communication and relationship. As preteens, the boys were asked whether their friends were engaged in violence, theft or drug dealing. During this same time period, their teachers provided input as to whether the boys displayed aggressive or delinquent behavior.
In their teen and early adult years, the boys were asked if they had carried a gun in the past year. About 20% did so during the study.
Authors found direct links between boys whose parents were disengaged and increased likelihood of carrying a gun.
About 29% of the effect was indirect. Boys whose parents were disengaged were more likely to have conduct problems or delinquent friends, both of which were associated with increased odds of carrying a gun, according to the study.
“Disengaged parents might be less likely to effectively monitor their children’s whereabouts, less emotionally connected to their children, or less likely to model and reinforce prosocial behaviors,” authors wrote.
They said community support and resources can give parents more time to engage with their children. They also called on pediatricians and school counselors to refer high-risk families to interventions.
“Interventions in childhood designed to improve parental engagement may help prevent youth from carrying guns in the first place,” authors wrote.