"How to Turn Your Kid Into a Bully"

CJW, November 9, 2010 9:42 AM


How do you solve family conflicts?

"How are bullies born?  The issue has been the subject of intense study . . . ." as reported by Tom Jacobs in a much needed look at the possible origins of bullying behavior:  the home. (We should also look more deeply into the conflict resolution "procedure"  --  or worse yet, absence of such procedure -- as presently implemented in schools, which may be an equally determining factor, but this is for another post).

Moving from the obvious physical abuse theories of the past under categorized as a "cycle of violence", a research team led by Michael Brubacker of DePaul University found "a more subtle connection between inadequate parenting and adolescent bullying" which is being labeled by academics as "cycle of dominance" in a newly published paper in the journal, Psychology Public Policy and Law, "Procedural Justice in Resolving Family Disputes:  Implications for Childhood Bullying."   From Miller McCune:

The phrase reflects their finding that, in transmitting bad behavior from one generation to the next, the issue isn't strictly the use of physical force. It's also a matter of whether the youngster grows up with a sense that that conflicts can be resolved in a just, fair way.

In short, if a kid feels he's being punished arbitrarily at home, he is more likely to engage in arbitrary punishment on the streets or in the schoolyard.

Insight into the line of questioning:
The youngsters (with an average age of just over 12 and one-half) when they asked whether they felt they were treated fairly as the issue was resolved. They were instructed to rate the accuracy of such statements as "Your parents treated you with respect" and "Your parents were equally fair to everyone involved."

The results:

The researchers found that "higher appraisals of procedural justice during family conflict resolution were associated with lower frequencies of bullying by the child." The more the child believed that his parents were asserting their power over him unfairly, the more likely he was to assert his power over someone smaller and weaker by bullying.

Strategies and conclusion:

"Suggested strategies for family conflict resolution should affirm the notions of respect, inclusion and participation of the child," they conclude. Or to put it more bluntly, if you want your kid to treat others with respect, there's no substitute for setting an example at home.


Not a time to "Shrink to Fit"

I remember growing up having a weekly "family hour" which was about resolving conflicts which mainly revolved around the three siblings.  (My parents were strong role models  - treating us  with respect yet without coddling - which looking back, was pretty cool).   We all had a chance to vent our frustrations and perceived inequities.  What was interesting was how the conversations got so heated that we began having them more often.  The intent was to resolve issues without yelling, walking out, etc.  Today, in this household, we try to deal with issues as soon as they come up to not let the pot boil too long, whether it be about  "unfair assumptions" and whether the punishment- suits- the- crime kind of thing, geared toward more of an emphasis on consistent and open communication. . .along with values and mutual respect.  Think it works well (so far) and a heck of a lot better than the more formal system of a weekly family hour.   Whatever works . . . think it obviously depends on the family.

We've reached the point in our bully culture where schools and parents need to model but also help kids distinguish between good-natured jesting and mean-spirited, relentless intent to hurt;
how to be able to stand up to bullying and how it's not okay.   Many schools and parents are rising to address these issues head-on but sometimes it goes as far as another classroom lecture without walking the talk in practice.  We've all seen it.

It's no longer enough to hide behind the kids-will-be-kids, toughen-them-up mentality or to use the "jus' kidding" responses (with parents fearing being  a member of  that over-protecting, helicopter parent club responsible for creating "teacup" over-sensitive children), when in fact we have to start listening . . . really listening to what's going on in the minds and hearts of our kids.  While baby-boomers grew up with "Leave it to Beaver," "Donna Reed" and "Father Knows Best" which makes one cringe at the unrealistic, all-white, problem denial-producing "perfection", yet at least it isn't "Mean Girls" and news programs full of snark, screaming and winning at any cost we see today.

The end of civility as we know it?  I don't think so but it's not a time to "shrink to fit."      
                                        What is your thinking on "family conflict resolution?"

                      - C. J. Westerberg

Orig. Published The Daily Riff October 2010

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