6 Family Characteristics That Can Contribute to Bullying

Posted on Tue, Oct 15, 2013 @ 06:47 PM

AuthoritarianParentingIt's Bullying Prevention Monthtime to ask whether we've learned anything new over the past year about what contributes to bullying behaviors and whatif anything, we may be able to do to prevent them.

Since this is a blog focusing on family relationships, it makes sense for us to put aside our curiosity about what schools and communities should be doing and instead ask the question, "What can families do to help prevent bullying?"

By way of addressing this, one study published in April of this year suggests there is quite a bit we, as families, can do to help. The University of Warwick researchers who led the study found that when parents give their children opportunities to learn how to solve problems constructively in a warm, supportive atmosphere with clear boundaries (known as “authoritative” parenting) the likelihood of becoming either a victim or a perpetrator of bullying is reduced. In contrast, authoritarian parenting (characterized by harsh, negative parenting practices, including neglect) was associated with increases in bullying experiences.

While the effects of harsh (authoritarian) parenting were associated with both victims and perpetrators of bullying, children who are exposed to negative parenting—including abuse and neglect, but also overprotection—are more likely to become victims of bullying.

These findings back up research going back at least 30 years and suggest that researchers Ronald Oliver, Neal Oaks, and John Hoover were right in most of the essentials of their 1993/1994 list of six characteristics often found in families of bullies. As James R. Holmes rewords them in "The Bully in the Family: Family Influences on Bullying," families of bullies tend to have

  1. "Cool-to-cold emotional environment" with lack of involvement from the primary caregiver;

  2. Permissive parenting style—few rules or limits for behavior, little family structure

  3. Isolation of family from the community, and active social life or social involvement of family is lacking;

  4. Conflict between parents, and disharmony within the family;

  5. Inappropriate use of discipline—parents fail to punish aggression or may even reinforce it; and fail to reward prosocial behavior or may even punish it;

  6. Authoritarian parenting with high use of controlling and punitive discipline—parents try to maintain order with rigid household standards and rules.

Notice that two seemingly opposite characteristics are on the list: permissive parenting styles and authoritarian parenting styles. In fact, later research has likewise suggested that families of bullies may have both characteristics at the same time. They may be permissive (or even neglectful) in some circumstances and hostile and controlling in others. George Batsche and Howard Knoff's 1994 study of bullies and victims also found that parents of bullies sometimes have poor problem-solving skills and "teach their children to strike back at the least provocation."

This list notwithstanding, not all bullies come from families with poor problem-solving skills. If your child is on either side of the bullying dynamic (or both sides, as is sometimes the case) it isn't necessarily because you're doing something wrong as a parent. Nevertheless, you are likely to be the person who is best situated to help your child work toward change. 

As you do so, it is important to beware of messages that will undermine your efforts. These include messages like, "Bullying is a harmless and necessary part of growing up. Kids will be kids, and you need to learn how to deal with life in the 'real world.' Don't be so sensitive."

The inescapable truth is that the best way for kids to learn how to deal with life “in the real world” is to be taught appropriate behavior toward others. Bullying is far from harmless and can impede, rather than encourage, the process of growing up. While it’s certain we will each encounter bullies at various points in our lives, children can (and should) be taught prosocial skills whether they interact on a bus, a playground, at school or online. And these are skills parents can begin to instill long before their children go to school.



Tags: family relationships, bullying, parenting styles

Bullying: The Family Connection

Posted on Sun, Jan 24, 2010 @ 04:06 PM

The origins of antisocial behavior
No Bullying

In the last post we saw examples of intergenerational relationships that reduced bullying behaviors. But bullying behaviors can be perpetuated from one generation to another as well.

In "The Bully in the Family: Family Influences on Bullying," from Bullying: Implications for the Classroom, James R. Holmes examines the existing research into this antisocial behavior, explaining that many factors contribute to producing it. However, most of these factors have their origins in the family. Whether genetic components are considered: which would include temperament, intelligence (or lack thereof) and attention problems; or environmental components such as family influences, behaviors that occur between parents and children, and family management skills; a child's central relationships are most likely to affect whether or not he or she will bully others.

According to the studies reviewed by Holmes, "Bullying is associated with families in which people do not treat each other with respect or families in which children are not taught to respect the rights of others."

He also notes that "[British Criminologist David P.] Farrington assessed intergenerational transmission of bullying behavior specifically and found that there was a relationship. In other words, boys who bullied others as adolescents were more likely in their 30's to have children who were bullies."

But it isn't only parents who have a strong influence in this regard. Says Holmes, "The intergenerational effects of poor family management and discipline can also extend to grandparents. Having antisocial parents and grandparents is even more predictive of antisocial behavior in adolescence."

How important are positive family relationships to a safe and successful community? As we continue to discover, everything we can hope to be as human beings begins and ends with the effort we put into family relationships.

Tags: family relationships, antisocial behavior, bullying, intergenerational behavior

Seniors and Students Together in the Classroom

Posted on Thu, Apr 03, 2008 @ 03:14 PM
Could Intergenerational programs improve school behavioral problems?
Seniors and Kids Intergenerational Programs

The best intergenerational programs attempt to address at least two issues at once. A common set would be, for instance, the isolation of the elderly along with the education of youth. If three or more issues can be addressed by one program it can only be considered a bonus.

Researchers from the University of Tennessee could be said to have reached this level of success with a 2003 study in which they attempted to demonstrate how older adults could affect the school behavior patterns of young children, as well as their attitudes toward the elderly. In this case, the children were 4th graders.

Using an inner-city school as the laboratory, researchers chose two classes as the control group (who continued classroom instruction in the usual way) while two similar classes  participated in an outdoor version of the curriculum alongside volunteer elders from a nearby senior center. The "Intergenerational Outdoor Classroom Project" ran two days a week for four weeks.

The findings? Children who participated in the intergenerational project had significant improvement in attitude scores toward older adults, as well as significant improvement in overall school behavior. The control group did not.

According to the researchers, these findings were not a huge surprise. Speaking to the first finding, they had this to say:

"Children's negative attitudes toward elders have often been associated with a lack of positive contact between these two groups." But the researchers point out that not all interactions between these groups are positive. In fact, recalling past studies they note that when contact occurs between children and the elderly in nursing homes, negative attitudes are not changed. Because the elders in this study were actively engaged in interacting with the students, however, the children saw them as positive role models and could imagine being like them someday.

The second finding had multifaceted benefits. "[Behaviorally] at-risk children pose special challenges to school systems already strained with limited budgets," the researchers pointed out. "Research suggests that children with behavioral problems benefit from higher teacher-student ratios, increased adult role models, and non-traditional teaching methods. Higher adult to children ratios can help prevent behavior problems, like school bullying."

The adults from the senior center ameliorated all of these conditions through their participation. They increased the teacher-student ratios, served as role models, and simply by virtue of their presence defined a non-traditional classroom situation, even without considering the outdoor setting. 

Perhaps the adults even gained something from the experience themselvesalthough the latter aspect was not examined: a circumstance the researchers in retrospect viewed as a weakness of the study. Nevertheless, say the researchers, "anecdotal evidence suggests that the elders found their involvement with the children to be highly rewarding."

And sometimesin the arena of human relationships at leastanecdotal evidence can be the most satisfying kind.

Tags: generation gap, bullying, intergenerational programs, school behavior