rules. Surely there is emotional parent-child enmeshment sometimes
but not always.
Indeed, objective research (e.g. Volk, et al, 1989) paints a
different picture: teenaged drug users are often uninvolved or
disengaged, not enmeshed with a parent at the time (perhaps earlier).
Teenagers, who do not use or abuse drugs, on the other hand, have
emotionally close relationships with both parents, especially father,
and are willing to take advice from mother (Coombs & Landsverk,
1988). These non-users are also willing to follow the "rules"
established by their parents about homework, TV, curfew, etc. (Their
parents have more rules and are seen as stricter, but they do not
punish more than users' parents. Instead, they use praise more.) Of
course, excessive drug-use by an adolescent would ordinarily worsen
the parent-child relationships (and kids who cause no trouble have
better relations with Mom and Dad), but we still don't know the
connection between the start of drug use and family relationships.
Surely friends play a big part; general psychological well being and
other factors may play a part too. There also appear to be gender
differences, e.g. female college students with drinking problems tend
to be "too far apart" or "too close" with mother and, thus, had a
poorer sense of identity. College males with drinking problems did not
show this too close-or-too distant relationship with either parent; peer
groups may exert more influence on college males (Bartle & Sabatelli,
1989). We have so much more to learn about helpful parenting.
Do abused kids become abusing parents?
It is a popular notion that people who abuse their children were
abused themselves. That happens, of course, but it is not predictable.
Many abusers were not abused! And, if you were abused, it does not
mean you will abuse your children. Only about 30% of abused children
abuse their children. Secondly, the abuse may not be the same, i.e. a
physically abused child may emotionally abuse his/her children.
What is the most common childhood factor in the background of
abusive parents? Feeling unloved and unwanted by your parents! The
abused-neglected child tends to suffer more problems than normal as
an adult: depression, alcoholism, sexual acting out, criminal behavior,
and a variety of other psychological problems. The more abuse, the
more psychiatric problems. As a society, we pay a heavy price for this
neglect through the Criminal Justice System and the Mental Health
System. A study of 15 teenaged murderers found that 13 had been
murderously abused. See Miller (1983) for a powerfully depressing
picture of abuse and the long-range consequences.
The consequences of abuse are worse when the child is mistreated
for a long time, early in life (before puberty), by a close family
member, and in a very stressful, hurtful, degrading manner (Goleman,
1989). The bad effects are more lasting if the family environment is
emotionally cold. Indeed, if the abused child has significant, continuing
contact with just one supportive, nurturing adult, this can "save a life."