Parents who swear at, hit, shove, or otherwise abuse their children are doing more than just immediate harm. They are also increasing the children’s risk of developing cancer later in life, say Purdue University researchers.
Looking at data from more than 2,100 adults who answered questions in the mid-1990s, the study found a link between abuse by parents – especially mothers abusing daughters and fathers abusing sons – and increased risk of cancer later in life.
Rather than asking participants directly about “abuse,” the survey included questions about how frequently a parent insulted or swore at them, refused to talk to them, threatened to hit them, threw something at them, pushed, grabbed, shoved, kicked, bit, punched, burned or scalded them as a child – and how often this happened. The more frequent and intense the abuse, the greater the cancer risk the study found.
“People often say that children are resilient and they’ll bounce back,” said lead author Kenneth Ferraro, a sociologist with Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course, “but we found that there are events that can have long-term consequences on adult health.”
The authors aren’t certain why abuse by the same-sex parent had a greater effect on cancer risk, though they theorize the greater social bond between same-sex children and parents could be at work. “Other studies have shown that if a mother smokes, the daughter is more likely to smoke, and the same relationship is found when sons mirror their fathers’ behavior. More research is needed, but another possibility is that men may be more likely to physically abuse their sons, and mothers are more likely to physically abuse their daughters,” says co-author Patricia Morton, a gerontology graduate student at Purdue.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and published online July 4 in the Journal of Aging and Health.