By Ko Teik Yen
We all feel sad, angry and sympathise with victims of bullying and their families.
While those targeted by bullying deserve an abundance of support and encouragement, it’s about time we take a deeper look at the root of the problem, and for parents as well as society at large to be more accountable for their actions.
We have a group of young people bullying others, and in the case of 18-year-old T Nhaveen, they resorted to extreme and senseless violence that cost him his life.
What made the bullies arrive at such a state of mind and resort to such violent behaviour? What about their upbringing and the community they lived in?
I would like to draw attention to the link between certain parenting styles and bullying. Here’s the cold, hard truth: The vast majority of kids who bully do so for reasons having to do with their home life; either they bully in order to satisfy feelings that are missing at home; they bully to relieve stress, anxiety, and anger stemming from home; or they bully because it’s what they have observed and learned at home.
Although intellectually, parents can comprehend that words, behaviour, and actions have a huge influence on their kids, many have difficulty in objectively assessing their own parenting styles and techniques.
Generations of patterns, cultural traditions and expectations, and the difficulty that comes with self-awareness and fear of loss of parental authorities, further complicate the issue.
Without any judgement whatsoever, I ask you, parents to be open to the list below, to acknowledge the potential consequences these four actions or inactions might have, and to ask yourself the hard question: is it possible that your parenting style might be responsible for the fact that your child is a bully or might become one in the not too distant future?
1. Neglected child with occupied parents
This parenting inattention is one that often causes kids to turn to bullying in order to fill a void. Bullies often bully so they can get attention and validation from their peers, since they aren’t getting it from the people in their life that matter most, their parents.
Afraid of becoming victim themselves, and wanting to fit in, many bystanders turn into bullies and in the process, validate each other’s actions, making them feel empowered, and reinforcing the behaviour over time.
If you don’t spend enough quality time with your child, make a change. It’s that simple.
Even short amounts of time can be made to count more by really connecting with your child.
Internet-free family dinners or breakfasts are an easy way to start. Make a connection with encouragement, validation, and show your unconditional love first before judging them every time when coming together.
2. Name-calling, insults, gossiping is bullying
Name-calling, insulting others, and gossiping are all behaviours considered as forms of bullying.
When you participate in these actions yourself, you are bullying the person at the receiving end, and in so doing, teach your child to do the same.
What you say to your partner, what your partner says to you, how you talk about your friends, peers and family members, and what you call your child all make an enormous, long-lasting impact on him or her.
Learn to be more aware of what words you choose and check your impulse to splurge everything out in an instant. Even better, learn to communicate your feelings in an effective and respectful way to the person you are unhappy with.
3. Hitting and spanking is violent behaviour
This is a parenting decision that is often cultural in nature and passed down from generations.
While it may be really difficult to change the way you think about something that’s been drilled into you for decades, the invitation is for parents to explore the long-term consequences of spanking and adopt other more effective means of non-violence and gentle discipline.
When spanking and caning are the only ways to discipline our kids at home, it creates a huge amount of anxiety and results in humiliation for the child.
It’s almost as if they have the on-going threat of being hit, hanging over their heads at all times.
Sure you could argue that they wouldn’t have to worry if they just behaved, but kids will make mistakes. It’s what happens to them as part of the growing up process.
If they don’t feel safe at home, that stress too often manifests itself as bullying as they do not have an effective outlet for their feelings.
Additionally, you are teaching your kids that threatening to hit and hitting are acceptable means of punishing someone who has angered you or done something that you don’t like.
Kids model their behaviour directly after the behaviour of their parents. Kids who are spanked at home are much more likely to hit other kids than children who are not. A violent parent begets violent kids.
4. Expressing anger and rage
Your child’s feelings are directly influenced by yours. Ever notice that when you’re anxious your child often feels anxious too? Or when you’re excited your child often feels excited?
While this connection may diminish as kids become teens, it’s very present during the early years.
Not only will your child unconsciously absorb feelings of anger, but how you choose to handle your anger teaches your child how they will handle anger in the future.
Yelling, cursing, gesturing and acting aggressively when confronted with a frustrating situation sends the direct message to your child that it’s okay to respond in those ways as well when angry.
Find out how you can better cope with stress and learn to express your anger more constructively and in a healthier manner. Learn effective communication skills and choose when to walk away.
If the situation isn’t really important, like a driver jumping queue in front of you, just let it go. It’s important that your child know that walking away and ignoring the situation can be an effective and acceptable option.
If you’re angry at a friend or family member, teach your child that effective communication skills and talking about your feelings is the best way. Lead by example.
Bullies are not born, they are raised.
In conclusion, violent parents make violent kids.
Many studies confirm an association between harsh (punitive) parenting styles and a child’s likelihood of becoming a bully or being bullied.
Some work also points to a more surprising association — permissive or neglectful parenting creates bullies, too.
The University of Washington conducted a retrospective study of 419 college students and found that parental authoritativeness (firm and gentle approach)— in which parents are warm and caring but set specific rules for the sake of their child’s safety — lowered a child’s risk of being bullied.
Both permissive and authoritarian (harsh) parenting styles, on the other hand, were positively correlated with bullying other kids.
A 2012 study also pointed to lackadaisical parenting as a problem.
Researchers investigated online bullying in a sample of college students and found that those with permissive parents engaged in more bullying behaviour than participants with authoritarian and authoritative parents.
Neglectful parenting was associated with the most bullying.
Most research on parents’ influence on bullying, however, has focused on harsh, punitive parenting styles — in which the parents are essentially modelling bullying behaviour for their children.
In a sample of 2,060 Spanish high school students on the subject of bullying and parenting styles, results indicated that abusive discipline increased teenagers’ risk of abusing peers or being abused by them.
Taken together, most studies indicate that the best parenting style falls in the middle of the spectrum.
Indeed, various studies have shown that a protective factor against being bullied or becoming a bully is having parents who are facilitative i.e. warm and responsive, to their children and who encourage appropriate levels of autonomy (rather than being either controlling or overly permissive).
The bottom line? If you do not wish to raise a bully, do not bully your own kids.
A gentle and firm (authoritative) parenting style, on the other hand, is protective against so many negative psychological outcomes that people who wish to become better parents should take classes on how to be more gentle and firm (authoritative) with their children.
Ko Teik Yen is a Clinical Hypnotherapist & Mindfulness Therapist, Senior Lecturer at LCCH Asia and Founding Director of LCCH Pantai Therapy Centre.
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