It is estimated one-third of all school-aged children will be victims of bullying at least once (Fitzgerald and Bussey, 2011). Families can protect children from bullying by providing them a safe and positive home environment with open communication and consistent sources of support (Bowes, Maughan, Caspi, Moffitt, and Areseneault, 2010). A safe home environment can also promote resilience and encourage children to form positive relationships that can help counteract the effect of bullying (Kim-Cohen, Moffitt, Caspi, and Taylor, 2004). Because most youth will inevitably interact with a bully at some point, parents and other adult caregivers must understand different types of bullying and ways to prevent a child from becoming a bully or victim.
- A warm home environment is essential in promoting the emotional resilience of youth. Having a warm and inviting family is vital to increasing behavioral resilience, especially among boys (Bowes et al., 2010). Warm families support each other and offer comfort and protection from the outside world. Sibling warmth is also a protective factor in resilience among school-aged children (Bowes et al., 2010).
- Children who grow up in homes with harsh punishment and authoritarian parents are more likely to become bullies. Children who indicate their parents have harsh discipline styles and hand out unnecessary punishment are more likely to bully others during school (Stevens, De Bourdeaudhuih, and Van Oost, 2002).
- Social aggression is not gender specific. All youth are at risk of being bullied or bullying others (Fitzpatrick and Bussey, 2011). Research has found no interaction between the type of social aggression, whether direct or indirect, and gender. Bullying prevention programs must make sure youth understand both types of aggression can be harmful and teach ways to prevent becoming a victim.
- The type of bullying changes as youth transition through the school years. The highest level of indirect aggression, such as starting rumors and engaging in other covert approaches to damaging another person, happens during the middle-school years (Fitzpatrick and Bussey, 2011). Elementary school bullying is often more physical and high-school bullying takes on a combination of both the physical and cover actions. As the most significant bullying occurs in middle school, youth need to understand to protect themselves against and not participate in indirect or covert bullying.
Implications for Parents
Children need to feel supported and safe in their homes. To do this, parents should make sure a child feels that communications are open between all family members. Parents should create a home where children do not live in fear of being punished and discussions about aggressive behavior begin early. As the type of bullying changes as children move from elementary to middle school, parents and other adult caregivers should discuss what constitutes bullying and make sure children understand words can be hurtful. The high prevalence of bullying implies all youth will interact with a bully at some point in childhood. The family environment affects the way a child will handle this interaction.
Bowes, L., Maughan, B., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T. E., and Arseneault, L. (2010). Families promote emotional and behavioral resilience to bullying: evidence of an environmental effect. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(7), 809-817.
Fitzpatrick, S., and Bussey, K. (2011). The development of the social bullying involvement scales. Aggressive Behavior, 37, 177-192.
Kim-Cohen, J., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., and Taylor, A. (2004). Genetic and environmental processes in young children’s resilience and vulnerability to socioeconomic deprivation. Child Development, 75, 651-668.
Stevens, V., De Bourdeauhuih, I., and Van Oost, P. (2002). Relationship of the family environment to children’s involvement in bully/ victim problems at school. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31(6), 419-428.
About the Author
Kate Cromwell completed her Master’s Degree in 2011. Her interest areas include childhood obesity and health disparities among minority youth.
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