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How Parents May Make Their Kids Bully Targets

We can’t completely bully-proof our kids, but there may be some things we can do to lessen the odds…

A study was just published a few days ago on the subject of parenting behavior and its impact on a the likelihood of of a child becoming a victim of bullying or a bully/victim. The study is what they call a meta-analysis, which is a fancy way of saying they analyzed more than 30 years worth of data from hundreds of other studies. The results may surprise some.

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So what are the parenting behaviors this study found have at least a small to moderate impact on our children’s likelihood of being bullied? It’s mostly what you’d think. One can reduce the odds through “positive parenting”. As described by this study, this includes authoritative parenting (high on demanding and on responsiveness), with good parent–child communication, parental involvement and support, supervision, warmth and affection.

On the negative parenting side of the equation, which is where they saw an increase in the risk of bullying and it’s negative impacts on children, the parental behaviors include abuse/neglect, maladaptive parenting (high levels of hostility, hitting and shouting), and over-protection. One would expect abuse & neglect to play a role, but it is the last one that may come as a bit of a surprise to some parents. Regardless of ones good intent, over-protection backfires.

Helicopter parents, I hear you. You’re just protecting your child… showing them love the best way you know how. Or maybe you just want to be their friend, their buddy, and are a bit loosey goosey with the rules and supervision? Hey, I’m not saying I’m a better parent than anyone else. Far from it. All any of us can do is our best. And when we find we’re off course and our parenting behavior may not be the best for our child, we need to change that course.

Victims of bullying are repeatedly exposed to aggressive behavior, perpetrated by an individual or peer group with more power than the victim (1). Bullying is a global problem with an average of 32% of children being bullied across 38 countries/regions (2). Victims more often develop physical health problems (3), a range of mental health difficulties including anxiety and depression (4), psychotic symptoms (5) and borderline personality symptoms (6).

They are also at highly increased risk of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and attempting and completing suicides (7). The targets of bullying are victims (8), and those who both bully others and are victims of bullying are called bully/victims (9). Bully/victims usually display the highest level of conduct, school, and peer relationship problems (10) and may come from the most adverse family backgrounds (11). The source materials for this section came from the following:

  1. Olweus, 1993, Olweus, 2002 and Wang et al., 2011
  2. 2 – World Helth Organization, 2012
  3. Gini and Pozzoli, 2009 and Wolke et al., 2001
  4. Arseneault et al., 2010, Woods and White, 2005 and Zwierzynska et al., 2013
  5. Schreier et al., 2009
  6. Wolke, Schreier, Zanarini, & Winsper, 2012
  7. Fisher et al., 2012, Klomek et al., 2009 and Winsper et al., 2012
  8. Haynie et al., 2001 and Wolke et al., 2000
  9. Wolke and Samara, 2004 and Wolke et al., 2000
  10. Juvonen et al., 2003 and Wolke and Samara, 2004
  11. Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005

 

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What do you think? Another over-generalization with no real value? Or just common sense?[/important]

Source: Parenting behavior and the risk of becoming a victim and a bully/victim: A meta-analysis study

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12 comments

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  1. OneMommy

    As a parent you never think about how your protecting your child might harm them later… I can definitely see how having a parent who is manipulative, yells a lot or is abusive might increase the odds of a child being bullied, The parent who is over protective? That, I guess, depends on in what ways the parent is supposedly being overly protective….

    1. Michael Schmid

      Absolutely. There’s a whole spectrum of parental behaviors that fall into the protective category. Clearly not all are harmful. Much the opposite. I don’t have a clear definition of “over-protection” from the perspective of these studies, but I do feel there’s been a trend toward what is sometimes called helicopter parenting.

      Although parental involvement and support and high supervision decrease the chances of children being involved in bullying behavior, for victims, at least 4 studies I found show over-protection increased this risk. It is possible that children with overprotective parents may not develop qualities like autonomy & assertion, and may become easier targets for bullies.

      In another unrelated study, it was determined that helicopter parenting (this was in all fairness an early attempt at defining it and measuring impacts) may not be conducive to promoting growth by limiting opportunities for emerging adults to practice and develop important skills needed for becoming self-reliant adults.

      I’m NOT an expert, and both the post and my comments here are simply my opinions, however informed they may be by ‘scientific’ study. IMHO children need a home where parents provide rules/structure, where they are held accountable for their choices; a home with with good communication, parental involvement and support, supervision, warmth and affection.

      1. Brenda Barron

        I had a helicopter mom. WAY overprotective and I know I failed to develop important social skills as a result. She wouldn’t let me go to friends’ houses because she thought no one was as good a parent as she was. This is hilarious because she was psychologically abusive to me. Oh the irony! So, I can see how over-protecting kids could be harmful, even with good intentions.

        1. Michael Schmid

          I’m so sorry to hear of what you went through, Brenda. Has it been difficult to find the appropriate balance with your own daughter? I’ve read some of your writing, btw, including “A Mother’s Words Are Lasting Scars”. *hugs*

  2. Alex | Perfecting Dad

    I’ll have to look at this study. I would have thought that parents who are abusive might make the child more of a bully rather than a victim, but maybe it’s different for different types of parental abuse. But I can understand why being overprotective causes a victim mentality. If the child is constantly protected then they may under develop skills to deal with conflict or other tough situations.

    1. Michael Schmid

      I assume the same thing. There likely is a high correlation between abuse, neglect, maladaptive parenting, and a child becoming a bully, though that was not covered in this study. There’s a link to the study at the end of the post. As you say, it probably depends upon each unique child and each unique childhood experience, as to exactly how a child is affected. I do seem to remember hearing many/most bullies are bullied themselves. That is what this study called the bully/victim.

      In writing this I certainly am not expecting to alter abusive behavior in any/many parents. I’d guess few abusive parents are reading parenting blogs. On the other hand, I do hope to at least share the possibility that being OVER-protective could have an unintended negative effect. Being overprotective is a behavior that I associate with well-meaning, loving parents. And it’s them I hope to reach. All of this said, I’m NOT an expert, and every child is different, so parents ought trust their instincts.

  3. Coffee Lovin Mom

    Interesting study. I think I may fall into the over protective parent category…my son will be a target being that he will never (nor does he really want to) “fit in” so I give him responses and we roll play the situations as they come up so he can remain as assertive as possible. He’s 11 so middle school is coming soon – gotta arm him with all the come backs so I don’t have to get in there and take things into my own hands as much as I want to do that for him. Sometimes I think my feelings are more hurt than his…

    1. Michael Schmid

      You don’t sound that helicoptery (I’ve invented a new word) to me, Amy. You just sound like a loving mom. Middle school is rough for most kids, so I can understand your concern. All we can do is our best as parents to allow them to develop autonomy and the confidence to assert themselves appropriately. Easier said than done, though, right?

  4. Ann

    I am learning more and more that there are no guarantees for a parent. We have to go with our gut in parenting and where one child may need a lot of independence the next may need a lot of hand holding. We have to trust our gut either way and we can’t let articles and ideas like this make us second guess what we are doing. There was a boy killed in Anne Arundel County a few years back. He was being bullied at school and his parent complained. The school did nothing so eventually his parents pulled him from school and put him in a private school. Then one day, riding his bike in his own neighborhood, the boys found him, pushed him off his bike and he hit hit head and died almost immediately. Who knows what will happen in our lives, we can go around readjusting for every little thing. Instead we have to live our lives and raise our children accordingly.

    1. Michael Schmid

      I am learning more and more that there are no guarantees for a parent. We have to go with our gut… Who knows what will happen in our lives, we can’t go around readjusting for every little thing. Instead we have to live our lives and raise our children accordingly.

      ~Ann Brennan

      We need only turn on the news to know control is an illusion. All we can do is our best, and trust our instincts. I’ve been reading your blog and watching your videos. I understand things have been a bit rough for you lately, and has reinforced your point above. I hope things settle down soon. I appreciate the dose of inspiration you provide your readers/viewers. I for one need it.

  5. Crystal & Co

    Very interesting and thought provoking study. This was one of the most viewed posts shared last week.

    You can view your feature here: http://www.crystalandcomp.com/2013/05/best-mom-advice-5613/.

    1. Michael Schmid

      Thank you, Crystal. So nice of you to stop by. LOVE your Wednesday linkys, and I’m honored to be included in the post you’ve linked to just above. I hope anyone reading this heads over and visit’s Crystal’s website. You’ll be glad you did!

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