One Ingredient in Making a Bully

Bullying risk increased for children exposed to poor or abusive parenting practices

(RxWiki News) No parents want to see their child bullied or become a bully at school. But parents may play one small part in the likelihood that their child will end up a victim or a bully.

A recent study found a link between unhealthy parenting practices and an increased risk of bullying in their children.

The children of abusive or neglectful parents were more likely to become bullies or to be victims of bullying at school.

The same was true of parents who did not physically abuse their children but use inappropriate parenting practices, like humiliation or public scolding.

"Seek help from parenting classes if you need advice."

The study, led by Suzet Tanya Lereya, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, looked for links between bullying and parenting practices.

The researchers reviewed all the studies on parenting behavior and bullying in multiple medical research databases that were published between 1970 and December 2012.

From 11,741 articles that they originally identified, the researchers narrowed it down to 70 articles based on their criteria.

The studies had to include parenting behavior measures directly related to the child and measurements of bullying at school that the child had experienced.

The studies also had to provide raw statistical data so that it could be combined for this study.

The researchers found that both victims of bullying and bullies themselves were more likely to have experienced poor parenting.

The poor parenting they were exposed to included abuse, neglect, overprotectiveness and "maladaptive parenting."

Maladaptive parenting refers to unhealthy parenting behaviors. These practices include shaming children, regularly scolding a child in public, causing a child to feel guilty, slapping a child, humiliating them, telling children they are "bad" children, verbally abusing children or exposing them to unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking in front of them.

The link was not very strong for poor parenting and victims of bullying, but it was moderately strong for the link between poor parenting and bullies.

In other words, the researchers found a moderately strong connection between a person becoming a bully and that person having abusive, neglectful or otherwise unhealthy parenting.

The researchers described positive parenting behavior as involving good communication between parents and the child and maintaining a warm, affectionate relationship.

Other positive parenting behaviors included parents' being supportive, involvement in their children's lives and watching out for their children in bullying situations.

"Negative parenting behavior is related to a moderate increase of risk for becoming a bully or victim and small-to-moderate effects on victim status at school," the researchers wrote. "Intervention programs against bullying should extend their focus beyond schools to include families and start before children enter school."

Yet the study's findings should also be interpreted with caution because the bullying situations may be taken out of context, said Garry L. Earles, MSW, a licensed independent clinical social worker who specializes in counseling families and a dailyRx expert.

He pointed out that many children who are bullied already have special needs or mental health conditions that may influence parenting behaviors because of the challenges the parents and children face.

"That being said, what should be obvious is that parenting can make a huge difference in mental health outcomes for children and adolescents," Earles said. "In a nutshell, family life (i.e. parents) can either help or hinder a child with a mental health condition."

He also said one of the most important things parents can do to help their children is to understand and appreciate what their children are going through.

"Lastly, I think what instills and builds acceptance, tolerance, inner-strength, quality self-esteem and yes, resilience, is 'a sense of connectedness'," Earles said. "We all want to and need to feel connected to others.  The more sincere and extensive the connections are, the better."

The study was published April 25 in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Qatar National Research Fund. No information was provided on author disclosures.

Review Date: 
May 2, 2013