The psychology literature suggests that 'good parenting' in early childhood is a crucial helping factor in brain development of child. (e.g., see "Social Intelligence" by Goleman.)

Where people grow up without 'good parenting' do they tend to, potentially unconsciously, offer similar 'bad parenting' to their children?

By bad parenting, I mean any abusive and neglectful parenting behavior. Examples:

  1. Getting drunk and beating wife in front of children (abusive).

  2. Never appreciating any success of kid (neglectful).

Does bad parenting breed bad parenting?

  • $\begingroup$ And further, I would say that there isn't any solid research proving that parenting style causes any long lasting behavior in children. Most studies doesn't include genetic factors. See for example faculty.weber.edu/eamsel/Classes/Child%203000/Lectures/… $\endgroup$
    – Speldosa
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 20:19

1 Answer 1


Bad parenting is considered a risk factor for all kinds of disfunctional behavior. For example, childhood victimization has been found to cause a higher risk of

These are just random samples from the first page of a Google Scholar search for the term "bad parenting". This is a well researched topic, and it appears to have been shown that victims of abusive or neglective parents run an increased risk of showing abusive and criminal behavior themselves.

As for your specific question, yes, again it seems that adults that have been mistreated as children are at a higher risk to mistreat their own children. This is a consistent finding across many studies: one example, another example. Again, there are many more examples. The other risk factors, such as partner violence (i.e. adult re-victimization), teen pregnancy and substance abuse, are in turn facilitated by child victimization (see the list above).

The problem is that many studies are badly conceptualized and often do not carefully consider other influences such as personality traits and the responsibility of the child: not all children are born as the same blank slates, and a "difficult" (irascible, headstrong, energetic etc.) child will increase the likelihood that the parents use desperate attempts such as physical force to restrain it, and will as adult - and independent of being abused or not abused as a child - have a stronger tendency for anger, impatience and transgressing the borders of other people including his own children. One article analyzing methodological problems finds that of all studies on intergenerational child physical abuse published between 1965 and 2000 only ten included a control group, and of these ten only two met several other methodological standards, and of these two one study provided evidence for the intergenerational continuity of child physical abuse, while the other did not.

So it appears that this question has not been answered to full satisfaction by current research.


A great overview of the research on the effects of different parenting styles is given on pages 182-188 in Arnett, J. J. (2010). Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Definition: Bad Parenting

Laurence Steinberg defines "bad parenting":

So when I say bad parenting, I mean parenting that is excessively harsh, parenting that is inconsistent, or parenting that is excessively permissive. And lots of times kids get all three of those things together. So their parents will swing from being really, really harsh and punitive to not even caring, and being what most of us would consider to be negligent. And so those three things, the harshness, the permissiveness and the inconsistency, all have been shown to contribute to antisocial behavior during adolescence.

  • $\begingroup$ I feel like "bad parenting" is a very arbitrary term... maybe you could e more specific for each example. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ In fact I used the term "childhood victimization" instead of "bad parenting". Read the second sentence of my answer. $\endgroup$
    – user1196
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 7:29

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