Childhood Victims and Bullies and Their Parents (page 2)
We will now address a serious problem seen in school-age children's peer relations-the presence of bullies and victims in the neighborhood and school. Bullying was once considered to be a normal part of school-age children's play, an unpleasant experience, certainly, but of little long-range consequence. After having recently looked at the situation more closely, though, researchers now realize that bullying is a considerable problem for school-age children, harming both the bullies and the victims. Childhood bullying is defined as repeated aggression in which one or more children harm or disturb another child physically, verbally, or psychologically (Wolke, Wood, & Stanford, 2001). When children physically bully other children, they hit, kick, push, and/or take personal belongings; when they verbally bully other children, they use name calling and threatening; and when they psychologically bully other children, they exclude them or gossip about them (Nansel et al., 2001).
The Impact of Bullying and Victimization on Children's Well-Being
Although bullying sometimes allows children to achieve their immediate goal, it is a risk factor for future maladaptive behaviors. For example, Nansel, Craig, Overpeck, Saluja, and Ruan (2004) found that school-age bullies are at greater risk for becoming involved in delinquency, crime, and alcohol abuse during their teenage years. Both immediate and long-term negative consequences also have been documented for victims. When children consistently confront the humiliating experiences of bullying, such as having to hand over their lunch money or being beaten up while others watch, the effects are detrimental at the time and persist over time (Berger, 2005). The damaging effects for child victims are anxiety, depression, underachievement, low self-esteem, and loneliness (Kochenderfer-Ladd & Wardrop, 2001; Schwartz, 2000). Victimized children also tend to be more withdrawn, cautious, quiet, and insecure, as well as less outgoing (Schwartz, 2000). Moreover, child victims are lonelier and less happy at school and have fewer good friends than other children (Nansel et al., 2001; 2004). One possible reason that bullied children tend to feel lonely is because other children are likely to avoid them for fear of being bullied themselves or losing social status among their peers. A common way in which victims respond to bullying is through avoidance behavior (such as not going to school or refusing to go to certain places) (Nansel et al., 2001).
The Parents of Childhood Bullies and Victims
Even though the behaviors of childhood bullies take place in peer groups outside the family, important differences have been found between the families of children who are bullies or victims, and the families of children who are neither bullies or victims (Stevens, Bourdeaudhuij, & Oost, 2002). In comparison to other families, interparental violence is more common in the families of children who become bullies or victims (Baldry, 2003). Besides this common experience, there are different family dynamics that contribute to children's assuming the roles of bullies or victims in their peer groups. Evidence suggests that bullies come from homes in which parents favor physical discipline, are frequently hostile and rejecting, have poor problem-solving skills, are accepting of aggressive childhood behavior, and/or teach their children to retaliate at the least provocation (Demaray & Malecki, 2003).
In contrast to parental behaviors that contribute to bullying, parenting influences on the likelihood that children will be the victims of bullies have been found to be gender related. Maternal overprotection has been associated with the victimization of boys and poor identification with mothers has been linked to the victimization of girls. In explaining the relations between maternal overprotection and the victimization of boys, it has been suggested that overprotective parenting likely interferes with the development of behaviors such as independence and assertion that are valued by male peers, and needed by boys to defend their position in the dominance hierarchy common to school-age peer groups. Being seen as independent and assertive also likely contributes to school-age boys' sense of self-confidence and adequacy in their peer groups. For girls, the link between victimization and low maternal identification is related to perceptions of the mother as hostile and rejecting. Low maternal identification might threaten girls' need for affiliation and their development of the social skills needed to relate closely and effectively with others. The parenting behavior most predictive of girls' victimization is perceived threat of rejection, which is experienced when girls' mothers threaten to abandon them, send them away, or stop loving them when they misbehave (Finnegan, Hodges, & Perry, 1998).
What This Means for Professionals
The previous discussion points to ways in which parents might alter their parental behaviors to prevent their children from assuming the roles of bully or victim. For professionals working with these parents, the prevention strategy developed by Hanish and Tolan (2001) might be a useful intervention plan. This five-step strategy, designed to prevent childhood bullying and victimization, recommends that parents (a) monitor their children's activities and whereabouts; (b) develop and use rules and consequences; (c) reframe behaviors in positive, instead of negative, ways; (d) focus on their children's positive behaviors; and (5) develop and use effective listening skills.
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