Can Parents Teach Peace?

By Carmen Sobczak | November 2, 2011 | 2 comments

A recent study suggests they can, at least some of the time.

Does parenting matter?

When faced with peer pressure and a culture of violence in many schools, parents may wonder what—if anything—they can do to raise peaceful kids.


But a recent study offers some hope, suggesting that parents can often trump violent influences by advocating nonviolent conflict resolution and modeling peaceful behavior in their homes.

In the study, published in Child Development, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Illinois studied more than 5,500 students at 37 middle schools in the southern United States over a period of three years. They focused on kids at this age because past research has found that aggressive behavior escalates throughout middle school, when students are transitioning from childhood to adolescence.

The students filled out a questionnaire that asked them to report how frequently they acted aggressively, their school’s attitudes toward violence, the number of friends they had who engaged in aggressive behavior, and whether their parents supported fighting or nonviolence.

Not surprisingly, students who associated with aggressive peers, attended schools where violence was the norm, or had parents who supported fighting were more likely to act physically aggressive. The researchers found that violent behavior in general increased throughout the three years of middle school, especially among girls.

But when parents actively advocated peaceful conflict resolution to their kids, on average those kids acted less aggressively, even if they attended violent schools.

However, the effects of parenting varied across gender and over time. When girls who went to violent schools also had parents who explicitly supported nonviolence, those girls were less aggressive—but the same wasn’t true for boys. On the other hand, among kids who had lots of violent friends, peaceful parenting messages were linked to less aggression for boys but not girls. Furthermore, the effects of these parenting techniques decreased as kids got older: Parents who began advocating nonviolent conflict resolution only when their kids reached eighth grade did not see significantly reductions in violent behavior.

The results offer an important message to parents: If you want your kids to practice kindness instead of violence, you should stress the importance of peaceful conflict resolution strategies from the time they are still young.

Still, the study also reminds us of the considerable challenges parents face against peer pressure and a culture of violence in schools, particularly when kids reach the age at which they are likely to become more aggressive. That’s why the authors advocate modifying programs that target middle-school parents: Instead of simply teaching disciplinary practices, as many programs currently do, the authors argue that they should also teach parents how to talk with their kids about violence and model nonviolent behavior.

“Such interventions might encourage parents to persist in their efforts and could counteract this discouraging developmental trend,” they write.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Carmen Sobczak is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:


Or how about we insist on non-violent school choices?

Wendy | 8:35 am, December 19, 2011 | Link


In modern American society, parents, who are often overworked and stressed out, often spend much less time with their kids than peers, school teachers, baby sitters, computers and television. yet, parents are often held responsible. Sure, maybe those girls who go to violent schools but have pacifist parents really are less prone to violence than their peers, but to which degree? How much less? how much real difference does it really make in their general perception of violence?

Care homes | 1:24 pm, May 2, 2012 | Link

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement