Family Characteristics of Children Involved in Bullying (page 2)

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 17, 2009

Sibling Characteristics of Male and Female Victims

The research on sibling relationships has not separately examined male and female victims. The small amount of research examining siblings finds that the relationships between bully victims and their siblings mirrors the relationships seen between male victims and their mothers, in which victims typically report overly close and positive relationships with their siblings (7). Although this sibling closeness can provide a protective role for victims, East and Rook (8) suggest that this sibling closeness could lead to further social isolation of victims because they are fulfilling their affiliative needs with their siblings rather than with peers. Additionally, Stormshak, Bellanti, and Bierman (9) found that children who had moderately conflictual and moderately warm relationships with their siblings displayed more social competence and emotional control at school than children who had more negative or more warm sibling relationships. The authors suggest that when there is warmth with no conflict, the child may not learn the skills necessary to handle uncomfortable interpersonal interactions with peers.

Family Characteristics of Chronic Bullies

A great deal of research has been conducted examining parenting styles in families of bullies. Research consistently finds that families of bullies are lacking in warmth and closeness and are focused on power and dominance . Research also indicates that bullies are likely to grow up without a father figure and that they are often victims of physical and emotional abuse (5, 10, 11). There is also a good deal of sibling violence in the families of bullies, with bullies showing the same types of aggression against siblings as they do with children at school (12). Overall, the need for power and dominance in the family is expressed through verbal and physical aggression between parent against bully, bully against sibling, and bully against peer. The aggressiveness of the bully is not only tolerated by the parents but may be a reflection of the bully’s family values and family environment (10).

Family Characteristics of Bully-Victims

In families of bully-victims (those who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying) there is more aggression and less warmth. But unlike the families of bullies, in which all members are focused on power and dominance, the mothers of bully-victims are described as being powerless women who may be victims of domestic violence (7). The violence exhibited by the father is also reflected in the sibling relationships in which the bully-victim is both the perpetrator and victim of sibling aggression (12). The aggressiveness and other misbehaviors of the children in these families tend to go unpunished, most likely because of the mothers’ powerlessness and their failure to monitor their children’s behaviors (7).

Dysfunctional Parenting As a Theme

When reviewing the research literature on families of children involved in bullying, a consistent theme becomes apparent for all except the male victim. Bullies, bully-victims, and female victims of bullying report that they are emotionally maltreated by one or both of their parents. Bullies and bully-victims may also experience neglect and physical abuse at the hands of the adults in their lives and they may experience a high level of aggression and violence within the family.

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