PROVO, Utah – Traumatic childhood events may shape girls’ delinquency behaviors and parenting practices by fathers, according to two new mental health studies from Brigham Young University.
Sociology professors Dr. Melissa Jones and Dr. Hayley Pierce worked on one study that looked at how girls react to the number of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, by age 5, and Dr. Kevin Shafer worked with a sociology professor out of Boston College examining patterns in men with past ACEs.
ACEs — which may include abuse, neglect and severe household dysfunction often lead to psychological and social struggles that reach into adulthood, researchers said.
Jones and Pierce’s study showed that girls who experience four or more ACEs by age 5 were 36% more likely to participate in delinquent or criminal behavior.
“These youth are doing delinquent acts and we respond to them as delinquents we don’t respond to them as children who are traumatized,” said Pierce.
“Often these children have never been taught how to cope with these experiences,” Jones added.
Shafer’s study found that fathers who experienced at least three ACEs by age 5 were more likely to use harsh disciplinary techniques when parenting, rather than showing patience and compassion.
“We have an issue here where we have a lot of men walking around with undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues associated with their childhood,” Shafer said.
But there is hope. Jones admitted she herself came from a dysfunctional home, but it was the love and support of others that kept her on the right track.
“I’m an ACE child. I’m a product of six ACEs,” she said. “(Children) can move forward in their life and live a very healthy life and parent the way they want to parent.”
“This ACE research hopefully redirects our angle of intervention and saying OK, these things happened to you and we are going to alter your path because these are not you,” Pierce said.
“It really speaks to the importance of getting help and realizing the potential negative impacts that these things can have in the long term,” Shafer said.
Jones and Pierce’s study was published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, while Shafer’s study was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
The professors are hoping their findings can help everyone from political leaders to mental health experts to families navigate ways to help those in this situation.