I WOULD like to draw attention to the link between certain parenting styles and bullying.
And here’s the cold, hard truth: The vast majority of children who bully do so for reasons connected with their home life.
Either they bully in order to satisfy feelings that are missing at home; to relieve stress, anxiety, and anger from home; or because it’s what they have observed and learned at home.
Although parents intellectually can comprehend that words, behaviours and actions have a huge influence on their children, many have difficulty objectively assessing their own parenting styles and techniques.
Generations of patterns, cultural traditions and expectations, and the difficulty that comes with self-awareness and fear of loss of parental authorities, further complicate the issue.
Without any judgement whatsoever, my intention here is simply to ask you, parents, to be open to the following points, to acknowledge the potential consequences these actions or inactions might have, and to ask yourself the hard question: Is it possible that your parenting style might be responsible for the fact that your child is a bully or might become one in the not-too-distant future?
1. Neglected child with occupied parents:
This parenting inattention is one that often causes children to turn to bullying in order to fill a void.
Bullies often bully so that they can get attention and validation from their peers, since they aren’t getting those things from the people in their life that matter most, their parents.
Afraid of becoming the victim themselves, and wanting to fit in, many bystanders turn into bullies and in the process, they validate one another’s actions, making them feel empowered and reinforcing the behaviour overtime.
If you don’t spend enough quality time with your child, make a change. It’s that simple. Even short amounts of time can be made to count more by really connecting with your child.
Internet-free family dinners or breakfasts are an easy way to start. Make connections with encouragement or validation and show your unconditional love first before judging your children every time you come together.
2. Name calling, insults, and gossiping:
These are all considered a form of bullying. When you participate in these actions yourself, you are bullying the person on the receiving end; and in doing so, teaching your child to do the same.
What you say to your partner, what your partner says to you, how you talk about your friends, peers and family members, and what you call your child all make an enormous, long-lasting impact on him or her.
Learn to be more aware of what words you choose and check your impulse to spout everything out in an instant. Even better, learn to communicate your feelings in an effective and respectful way to the person you are unhappy with.
3. Hitting and spanking:
This is a parenting decision that is often cultural in nature and passed down through generations.
While it may be really difficult to change the way you think about something that’s been drilled into you for decades, the plan is for parents to explore the long-term consequences of spanking and adopt other more effective means of discipline.
When spanking and caning are the only way to discipline children at home, it creates a huge amount of anxiety and humiliation.
It’s essentially like they have the threat hanging over their head at all times. Sure, you could argue that they wouldn’t have to worry if they just behaved, but children will make mistakes. It’s what happens to them as part of the growing-up process.
If they don’t feel safe at home, guess where they would go to? That stress also often manifests as bullying when children do not have an effective outlet for their feelings.
Additionally, you are teaching your children that threatening to hit and hitting are acceptable means of punishing someone who has done something that you don’t like. Children model their behaviour directly after their parents. Those who are spanked at home are more likely to hit other kids than children who are not.
4. Expressing anger and rage:
Your child’s feelings are directly influenced by yours. Have you ever noticed that when you’re anxious, your child also feels anxious? Or when you’re excited, your child also feels excited?
While this connection may seem to diminish as your children grow into their teens, it’s very evident during the early years.
Not only will your child unconsciously absorb feelings of anger, but how you choose to handle your anger will teach your child how they would handle anger.
Yelling, cursing, gesturing and acting aggressively when confronted with a frustrating experience send the direct message to your child that it’s okay to respond in those ways to anger.
Find out how you can better cope with stress and learn to express your anger more constructively and in a healthier manner.
Learn effective communication skills and choose when to walk away. For example, if the situation isn’t really important, like the driver who jumped queue in front of you, just let it go.
It’s important that your child knows walking away and ignoring the situation can be an effective and acceptable option.
If you’re angry at a friend or family member, teach your child that effective communication skills and talking about your feelings are the best options. Lead by example.
Bullies are not born, they are raised.
Many studies confirm an association between harsh (punitive) parenting styles and children’s likelihood of being both a bully and being bullied.
Some studies also point to a more surprising association – permissive or neglectful parenting creates bullies, too.
The University of Washington conducted a retrospective study of 419 college students and found that parental authoritativeness (firm and gentle approach) – in which parents are warm and caring but set specific rules for their child’s safety – lowered children’s risk of being bullied.
Both permissive and authoritarian (harsh) parenting styles, on the other hand, were positively correlated with bullying of other children.
A 2012 study also pointed to lackadaisical parenting as a problem.
Researchers investigated online bullying in a sample of college students and found that those with permissive parents had engaged in more bullying behaviours than participants with authoritarian and authoritative parents.
Neglectful parenting was associated with the most bullying.
Most research on parents’ influence on bullying, however, have focused on harsh, punitive parenting styles in which the parents are essentially modelling bullying behaviour for their children.
In a sample of 2,060 Spanish high school students about bullying and parenting styles, results indicate that abusive discipline increased teenagers’ risk of abusing peers or being abused by them.
Taken together, most studies indicate that the best parenting style falls in the middle of the spectrum.
Indeed, various studies have shown that a protective factor against being bullied or becoming a bully is having parents who are facilitative, meaning warm and responsive to their children and encouraging of appropriate levels of autonomy (rather than being either controlling or overly permissive).
The bottom line? If you do not wish to raise a bully, do not bully your own children.
A gentle and firm (authoritative) parenting style is protective against so many negative psychological outcomes that people who wish to become better parents should take classes on how to be more gentle and firm (authoritative) with their children.
KO TEIK YEN
Clinical hypnotherapist and