Parental Influence & Bullying

How parents choose to raise their children has a large impact on whether a child becomes a bully as well as how a child deals with bullies. Because bullying in childhood is an indicator for criminal behavior in adulthood, parents who understand the parental influences on bullying behavior will be better prepared to raise constructive adults. Parents are likely concerned with their children’s behavior or are concerned about how their children are being treated at school. The good news is that knowledge is the first step to solving bully problems.

How Bullies Become Bullies

As bullies of all races, sizes and cultures exist, no one can say that a certain type of child is a bully. However, psychologists have insight into certain factors that may lead a child to become a bully. Many of these factors are related to how children grow up in their homes, away from schools and playgrounds. In fact, parenting styles often lead children to find pleasure or satisfaction in mistreating others.

Lack of Parental Control

In many cases, children become bullies to gain a sense of power. Through intimidating weaker children, a bully feels a sense of authority. According to Edward Dragan, who holds a doctorate of education and wrote “The Bully Action Guide,” children who have the need to gain control over their peers often are acting out a need that is unfulfilled in the home 1. When parents are over-demanding and give their children no say in what happens in the household, children feel restricted and lose their sense of autonomy. They can regain this sense of autonomy by dominating their peers in the schoolyard.

Poor Role Models

Children look to their parents as role models, even into the teen years. Children are therefore likely to imitate what their parents do. If a child has grown up in a home where violence is common, he is likely to act violent in his school life. Via bullying, these children can act on their positive attitudes toward violence, gaining satisfaction by witnessing their ability to injure or cause suffering to others. In these situations, children may simply lack empathy or be unaware that violence is a taboo.

Lack of Warmth

Parenting styles that emphasize demands over parent-to-child affection can indirectly encourage bullying behavior. Part of the reason lies in children failing to gain positive support when they’ve performed well or behaved well. Without parental emotional rewards to guide a child’s behavior, the child will seek external rewards. In such cases, children might find rewards through bullying, such as gaining peer respect or gaining material goods, including the possessions of classmates. In these children, the feeling of taking a new toy or demanding respect can artificially substitute parental warmth. In children who gain little attention in the home, even negative attention from adult figures, such as teachers, can be rewarding.