Study: Children, Teens with Hostile Home Lives More Likely to Bully Peers

Frustrations with parents can dysregulate anger

New evidence suggests that adolescent bullying and victimization may have origins in the home. Many bullies have parents who are hostile, punitive, and rejecting. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and Uppsala University in Sweden, have identified another type of parenting that contributes to peer difficulties: those who direct derision and contempt at their children.

Derisive parents use demeaning or belittling expressions that humiliate and frustrate the child, without any obvious provocation from the child. These parents respond to child engagement with criticism, sarcasm, put-downs, and hostility, and rely on emotional and physical coercion to obtain compliance.

The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, emphasizes the emotional underpinnings of peer difficulties. The researchers followed 1,409 children for three consecutive years from grades 7 to 9 (ages 13-15 years).

Past research indicates that bully-victims are at the greatest risk for poor mental health, behavioral difficulties, and suicidal thoughts when compared to “pure” victims, “pure” bullies, or nonvictims. Identification of the family-specific origins of bully-victim status may be a key step in limiting or preventing such poor outcomes.

“Implications from our study are far-reaching: practitioners and parents should be informed of the potential long-term costs of sometimes seemingly harmless parenting behaviors such as belittlement and sarcasm,” says senior author Daniel J. Dickson, PhD, of the department of psychology at Concordia University. “Parents must be reminded of their influence on adolescents’ emotions and should take steps to ensure that adolescents do not feel ridiculed at home.”

SOURCES: Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Social Work Today

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