Maternal distress explains the relationship of young African American mothers' violence exposure with their preschoolers' behavior

Stephanie J. Mitchell, Amy Lewin, Andrew Rasmussen, Ivor B. Horn, Jill G Joseph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Adolescent mothers and their children are particularly susceptible to witnessing or directly experiencing violence. Such violence exposure predicts maternal distress, parenting, and child behavior problems. The current study examined how mothers' depressive symptoms, aggression, harsh disciplinary practices, and home environment independently explain the association between mothers' violence exposure and children's externalizing and internalizing behavior, controlling for their children's violence exposure. Data were collected from 230 African American mothers living in Washington, DC who gave birth as adolescents and whose children were 3 to 5 years old. Path analysis revealed that the effect of mothers' experienced violence on children's externalizing and internalizing behavior was mediated by mothers' depressive symptoms and aggression. However, neither harsh discipline nor stimulation in the home environment acted as significant mediators, and there were no direct or indirect effects of mothers' witnessed violence on child behavior. This study builds on previous work by identifying an association between maternal violence exposure and children's behavior, independent of children's own violence exposure that is explained by mothers' increased distress but not their parenting. These findings suggest that a potential means of preventing behavior problems in minority children born to adolescent mothers is to identify mothers who have been directly exposed to violence and treat their depressive symptoms and aggressive behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-603
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • intergenerational transmission of trauma
  • mental health and violence
  • violence exposure
  • youth violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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