Does a Parent Raise a Bully?
You probably know the child – the one who is always picking on others, taunting, shoving, or just being plain nasty. He is the bully. Maybe he is your child, or the classmate of your son or daughter. I wrote yesterday of how my boys and their friends recently met the bully. The one who just always seems to be aggressively and relentlessly bullying other children. Not only is this child (who is perhaps not even 10 years old yet) controlling social situations through bullying, but his older brother has been doing the same thing for years as well. Which means we have to wonder: Are parents breeding bullies?
Raising a Bully – Babyhood and Beyond
Studies conducted over the past decade indicate that bullying most often emerges when there is a lack of empathy for others. Empathy is that key ingredient that helps children (and adults) recognize the emotions of another, and act appropriately and accordingly. Signs of empathy emerge rather early, with infants crying when they hear another infant crying, and studies have even shown that toddlers with empathetic tendencies will do things such as offer to help adults who appear to be struggling to reach things (even though they don’t have the capacity yet to understand that there is no real way they will be able to help).
Empathy is developed in children through close, affectionate, and attached relationships. It is why children who are raised in stable and nurturing homes are more emotionally mature than those who are raised in an orphanage and without a consistent relationship with just one or two special adults. Almost 90% of brain development happens during the first 5 years of life – the interactions and experiences children have during these years are extremely important when it comes to their development of empathy and their ability to interact socially in positive and healthy ways.
So when I hear these numbers and read the research that says our children have such a strong imprint for social skills before they are even school-age, I think of that boy and his brother who are best known for their bullying ways. I don’t personally know their parents, so I can’t speak of their home environment. But I do know that when they are in public, the parents rarely smile at their children, and conversations between them are usually terse. Beyond that limited exposure, I don’t know what influences these boys to behave as bullies.
The research, however, shows that there are several factors that influence which children are more likely to become bullies. These are most often kids who
- Lack social skills, compassion, and empathy
- Have poor impulse control skills
- Spend more time watching aggressive television programming and play more aggressive video games
- Lack close, nurturing relationships with parents
- Live in environments with inconsistent disciplineStruggle with academics
- Lack strong peer relationships – bullying becomes a way to control social situations
- Suffer from child abuse
- Are the victim of bullies, including adult bullies (which can sometimes be parents)
What Can We Do to Help?
Kids who bully and have been raised in an environment that either supports these behaviors or results in these behaviors (a means of survival), are not likely going to suddenly change because one random and unknown mom sweet talks to them. Honestly, sugar coating things is not my usual M.O. – I am more of a “this is how I see it – deal with it and move on” kind of person. But in cases of bullying such as my sons and their friends experienced, perhaps dousing this bully with an overzealous amount of positive and warm affection might have made the difference, if just for the moment. Maybe we need to consider how these moments might add up to be a catalyst for change.
What can we do to help our kids and still have a positive impact on the bully?
I am the first to admit that it is very hard to consider the bully’s perspective when your own child is in pain from the teasing and shoving. However, the longer I parent, the more I learn that we can’t live in these snapshot moments where we “deal with it and move on.” If I take the time to consider the bully’s perspective, I am not only giving the bully a chance, but I am teaching my children even more about empathy.
We can’t just barge into homes and see if parents are raising bullies. We can’t demand parenting classes for parents of kids who repeatedly bully (but maybe schools, clubs, and other organizations need to consider this). Perhaps one of the most important things we need to do is interact with these bullies with consistent, firm, and respectful behaviors (I know – it is hard to do), and be role models for the behaviors we want to see. We can also be role models for other parents by how we interact with and react to our own children.
I later found out that as my children and their friends were being bullied, a father stood by watching the entire time, helping his young daughter on the slide. When I approached the bully and spoke to him, this father did not acknowledge the situation at all. As parents, educators, and community members, let’s stop doing nothing.
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)