Three patterns or styles of parenting associated with the development of bullying have been identified: intrusive-overprotective parenting, parental psychological overcontrol, and parental coercion (Perry et al., 2001). Young people with healthy social and emotional adjustment, bullies, passive victims, provocative victims can all emerge from any of these styles. Other factors, such as individual temperament, results of first experiments with violence, and resilience also affect a child's role in bullying. However, the intrusive-overprotective style and the overcontrolled style are generally associated with victimization status, whereas coercion appears to foreshadow bullying behavior (Duncan, 2004; Olweus, 1993; Perry et al., 2001).
In conclusions drawn from a recent review, Duncan concluded that subtle gender interactions between parents and children affect the advent of victimization status. Male victims tend to have overprotective and controlling yet warm mothers. The fathers of male victims tended to be critical and either distant or absent. The mothers of female victims tended to be overtly hostile—at least in a verbal and psychological manner.
The Overprotective Parent or Caregiver
Hoover and Oliver (1996) referred to the "hothouse" family as an analogy to the intrusive-overprotective parenting style. A hothouse can be set up to tightly control all factors leading to health in plants. Yet when flowers from closely-controlled hothouses are transplanted into natural surroundings, they often wither because they cannot tolerate less-than-perfect conditions.
Likewise, young people, primarily boys (Duncan, 2004), frequently receive so much protection at home that they grow to be poor at tolerating other children's rough-and-tumble ways. Such youngsters become accustomed to adults' predictability and find the playground's confusion distressing. Overprotective parents may not afford their children the opportunity to enter into the roughhewn negotiations that facilitate acquisition of conflict-resolution skills. Children often learn the often indelicate art of conflict resolution through arguments about the rules of neighborhood games. These negotiation and related social skills learned informally among peers are often missing in children raised in an overprotective style. This may be particularly problematic if the youngster is born with a tendency toward social anxiety.
Boys recognize the importance of roughhousing during informal play. When Gamleiel, Hoover, Daughtry, and Imbra (2003) asked intermediate students about aggression, they replied that they participated in a lot of "horsing around" that did not constitute bullying. When these same individuals were asked about bullying, they noted that some boys did not like rough play and that horsing around with such individuals may have been perceived as bullying. This in turn places a great deal of pressure upon young boys who do not wish to play out what Kimmel and Mahler (2003) called masculine scripts.
Parents may exert more than a healthy degree of psychological control over their offspring. Overcontrol refers to invalidation of children's feelings by frequently interrupting and remonstrating with children regarding the invalidity of their feelings (Perry et al., 2001, p. 84). Youngsters often, as a result, lose confidence in the validity of their own emotions. Such individuals manifest internalizing (shy and anxious) symptoms.
In summarizing over a decade of research, Olweus (1993) characterized the family lives of bullies as a cold emotional environment punctuated by episodes of "heated" physical and verbal violence. Perry and colleagues described the coercive parenting style in the following terms:
Coercion encompasses direct verbal attacks, bossiness, sarcasm, and power-assertive discipline and surely undermines the child's feelings of being loved and respected. (p. 84)
Young people with the physical and psychological resources to be aggressive with their peers frequently learn their belligerent response patterns from hostile parents and caregivers. It stands to reason that youngsters approach relationships aggressively if the preponderance of interpersonal episodes they encounter reflect physical or psychological control of the weak by the strong. Generally, students learn to be aggressive via coercive parenting styles, but occasionally a youngster will react to parental hostility by becoming shy and anxious and thus become prone to victimization (Perry et al., 2001). The most toxic mix for the advent of aggression and bullying in youngsters of both sexes is permissiveness for violence directed toward siblings and other young people combined with a physically harsh discipline style (Duncan, 2004).
Perry et al. (2001) pointed out that boys tend to become bullies if parenting styles are hostile and aggressive. Girls in hostile environments, on the other hand, tend to manifest the set of behaviors associated with victimization. Boys with oversolicitous, overprotective parents are most at risk for becoming bully victims.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.