Children who are exposed to poor parenting, whether it’s abuse, neglect or overprotection, are more likely to experience childhood bullying, according to new research.
A meta-analysis of 70 studies of more than 200,000 children by researchers at the University of Warwick found the effects of poor parenting were stronger for children who are both a victim and perpetrator of bullying — known as bully-victims — than children who were solely victims.
The researchers found that negative or harsh parenting was linked to a moderate increase in the risk of being a bully-victim and a small increase in the risk of being a victim of bullying. In contrast, warm but firm parenting reduced the risk of being bullied, according to the study.
The study’s authors, psychologists Drs. Dieter Wolke, Suzet Lereya and Muthanna Samara, said the results show that anti-bullying intervention programs should extend beyond the schools, with a focus on positive parenting.
“The long shadow of bullying falls well beyond the school playground — it has lasting and profound effects into adulthood,” Wolke said. “We know that victims and bully-victims are more likely to develop physical health problems, suffer from anxiety and depression and are also at increased risk of self-harm and suicide.”
For the study, researchers categorized behaviors such as abuse, neglect, maladaptive parenting and over-protection as negative parenting behavior.
It also categorized authoritative parenting, parent-child communication, parental involvement and support, supervision, warmth and affection as positive parenting behaviors.
“Although parental involvement, support and high supervision decrease the chances of children being involved in bullying, for victims overprotection increased this risk,” Wolke noted. “Children need support, but some parents try to buffer their children from all negative experiences. In the process, they prevent their children from learning ways of dealing with bullies and make them more vulnerable.”
Wolke said it may be that could be that children with overprotective parents may not develop qualities such as autonomy and assertion and therefore may be easy targets for bullies. Conversely, it could also be that parents of victims become overprotective of their children.
“In either case, parents cannot sit on the school bench with their children,” he said. “Parenting that includes clear rules about behavior while being supportive and emotionally warm is most likely to prevent victimization.”
The study was published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.
Source: University of Warwick