Bullying has become a worldwide phenomenon that affects children and adolescents. From 20 percent to 30 percent of children admit to having been the victim or perpetrator of bullying. While there is information for parents of victims, the information available to parents of perpetrators is harder to find.
Parents hope to raise caring and friendly children, but some children become bullies. What prompts them to become bullies? How can you recognize if your child is bullying others? What can you do to prevent your child from bullying repeatedly?
The first step in prevention is identifying bullying. Bullying is unwelcomed aggressive behaviors by youth because of an imbalance in power between the victim and the perpetrator. These behaviors may be a single incident or recurrent and pervasive.
There are many reasons why children become bullies. However, parenting styles, how parents model behavior, and a child’s temperament may contribute. Recognizing that there are multiple ways to raise a child and that children have different personality traits can help guide adults in preventing their children from bullying.
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There are four well recognized parenting styles: authoritarian, neglectful, permissive and authoritative. Authoritarian parents are demanding, strict and unresponsive. They don’t allow for open communication with their children. Neglectful parents fail to care for their child’s emotional and physical needs. Permissive parents show their children affection but tend to spoil their children and lack structure. Authoritative parents balance high expectations with support and communication.
Research has shown that children whose parents are overly demanding or permissive may be at risk for bullying. The theory is that if authoritarian parents are too strict, the child feels inferior at home. This can prompt them to desire power at school. They choose to bully other children in order to create a false sense of self-esteem. Likewise, if permissive parents disregard structure in their household, children develop a disregard for rules. They have not been punished and develop a lack of empathy when hurting others. This can prompt them to bully.
Parents need to balance structure, responsibility and rules with open communication, acceptance and empathy. This authoritative parenting style helps provide children with confidence, structure and love. Additionally, parents are always modeling behavior for their children. If parents are arguing, gossiping about others, spreading rumors or bullying themselves, children may perceive these actions as appropriate and engage in them.
Children are born with different personality traits. Some children lack empathy or remorse, desire control, blame others and are disruptive. They may be disobedient, oppositional and irritable. These traits may predispose them to bullying behaviors. Some children who are bullies have been the victims of bullying themselves. The pain that they have felt from being victimized may provoke them to bully others.
Currently there are many consequences for bullying. Schools may be the first to identify this behavior and notify the parents. Schools have become more vigilant in recognizing bullying and implementing behavior management techniques to prevent it. School punishments for bullying in Florida are determined by policies written by each school district according to the law of the state. Consequences for bullying can include suspension or expulsion and, if state laws are violated, some parents of those bullied can take legal action.
The long-term consequences of bullying can be severe. If a child has been suspended or expelled for bullying, it may be challenging for a child to be accepted to another school. Children who are bullies may fail out of school, drop out, or engage in fighting, crime, and violence. One report showed that about 60 percent of boys who were bullies during middle school had been convicted of at least one crime by age 24, and 40 percent had been convicted of at least three crimes.
If you suspect that your child is a bully, speak with their school and mental health professionals to ensure that both your child and the victim are safe. Children who bully others may be suffering themselves from poor self-esteem or depression. Children with depression may be at an increased risk for anxiety, school absences, alienation from peers and suicide. Consult with a mental health professional in order to provide your child with appropriate therapies to teach him or her effective communication skills and coping mechanisms. If a mental health condition contributes to the bullying, some children may benefit from medication.
If you are concerned that your child is a bully, contact your child’s pediatrician. Consider calling 305-243-6400 to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional at the University of Miami Health System. Stop bullying and create a safe environment for today’s youth.
Samantha Saltz, M.D., and Julie Furst, M.D., are psychiatry residents, and Judith Regan, M.D., J.D., M.B.A., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.