During the study, the researchers looked at 754 children from preschool through adulthood.
They found that children who have social and academic problems in elementary school are more likely to have parents who withdraw from them over time, which in turn compels them to make friends with adolescents exhibiting deviant behaviors and, ultimately, engaging in serious and sometimes costly acts of violence.
Kenneth A. Dodge, the lead author of the study and director of the Centre for Child and Family Policy at Duke University said that developmental path toward violent outcomes was largely the same for boys and girls.
They also found that the cascade could be traced back to children born with biological risks or born into economically disadvantaged environments, which makes consistent parenting a challenge.
They determined biological risk by assessing the temperaments of the children in infancy, based on mothers' reports; those at risk were irritable, easily startled and difficult to calm.
These children are more likely to exhibit minor social and cognitive problems upon entering school. From there, the behavior problems begin to "cascade," he said.
The report appears in journal Child Development.