By Jessica Kelmon
Bullying is on the rise. It’s been all over the news lately. More and more victims are stepping forward to share their stories – and they’re horrifying. Our hearts melt. Collectively, we wonder how on earth this can happen. Secretly, many of us squeeze our eyes shut and hope the awful school bully will never be our kid. Just hoping your kid won't be a bully won’t work, but new research shows that there are two simple parenting strategies that will:
1) Knowing your child’s friends
2) Having a free exchange of ideas with your child
Dr. Rashmi Shetgiri, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Texas Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, analyzed data from two massive CDC phone surveys of 46,000 parents. The first survey was in 2003, the second in 2007. Dr. Shetgiri and her team of researchers dove into the results to identify bullying trends over time. Here’s what they found:
- Parents play a key role in whether their child is a bully. Period.
- Meeting your child’s friends is even more effective in preventing bullying now than it was in 2003. Basically, it’s a must. Researchers don't know exactly why this is the case, but it seems to be a good indication of high parental involvement, which Dr. Shetgiri says is key to preventing bullying.
- A free exchange of ideas means having an open communication style. When parents reported communicating “very well” or “well” with their children, the kids were less likely to be bullies.
- The number of kids who bully is on the rise: In 2003, 23 percent of children had bullied another child. In 2007, that rate had increased to 35 percent.
- There’s reason to worry about kids who bully: About one in five has an emotional, developmental, or behavioral problem (more than three times the rate in non-bullies).
- Good students aren’t the culprit: Kids who usually or always complete their homework are less likely to bully.
- Language is not the issue: Children who live in non-English-speaking homes are less likely to bully.
Sadly, there are two factors that show a consistently strong link to bullying behavior in children. Not surprisingly, they both have to do with parents. Children are more likely to be bullies if their parents often feel angry at – or even bothered by – them. Maternal mental health is also a factor: Children are more likely to bully if their mothers have even minor mental health issues.
It would be a shame if this information were used as an excuse to stigmatize parents. Remember, it takes a village. How can we make sure parents get the resources they need – for themselves and for their children – so we can put an end to bullying?