By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Is there a relationship between Bullying, families, and resiliency?
At least one research study says yes. My task of reading all these research studies about resiliency and what makes some people bounce back from trauma quickly while other people are down for the count continues. This one study seems worth sharing. It is not extremely new (from 2010) but it was new to me so I thought I would pass it on.
The study by Bowes, Maughan, Caspi, Moffitt, and Arseneault, says yes there is a connection. They say three factors improve the resilience of children who are bullied. Now after reading as many studies as I have so far I take everything with a lot of salt. (Please don’t tell my nutritionist.) I am leery of studies that say that doing or not doing something will protect your child from harm. Parents sometimes do everything right and still, something bad happens, but this study does suggest some things that help reduce the impact of bullying on kids.
They found that being the victim of bullying in primary grades set the child up for both emotional and behavioral problems as well as increasing the risk of suicidal thought and actions and other self-harming behaviors. Victims of bullying, not surprisingly, have an increased risk and the younger they are when bullied the more the risk. At least that is the way I read this.
Some factors they found, well there is nothing you can do about it. Being poor adds to your risk. But then poverty adds to the risk of almost everything. In the early grades, girls seem to be more resilient than boys. That surprised me. High I. Q. protects kids from some risks and increases resiliency. Most efforts to increase your child’s I. Q. aren’t going to work, though appropriate effective education and counseling might help a little. Children with emotional or behavioral problems to start with were more affected by bullying. I take that as an indication that early interventions in childhood emotional and behavioral problems are better than the wait and see approach.
They suggest there is a difference in the factors that promote resiliency in the emotional area and those that increase resiliency in behavioral areas. Now here is the thing that was noteworthy for me. The family characteristic that was most helpful in promoting behavioral resiliency in boys was – the warmth of the mother. That is boys who knew their mother liked them were less affected by being the victim of bullying that boys whose mothers never treated them warmly. So much ladies, for worrying about spoiling your sons. Let them know they are loved and their behavior improves. At least it did in sons who were bullied.
The second thing that promoted resiliency in these kids was the warmth of their siblings. Even boys whose mothers were cold and uncaring did better when they had siblings that were warm and caring. Another good reason to promote siblings getting along.
The third factor, after maternal warmth and sibling warmth that protected kids who had been bullied and increased their resiliency, was a positive family atmosphere. So parents, while money, as in poverty, plays a small part in reducing resiliency, the things you can’t buy, like material warmth, sibling warmth, and a positive family environment made the most difference.
Some issues with the study were that they left out the problem of girl’s behavioral resiliency. I think a lot of girls do act out behaviorally because they were teased and bullied. Usually, the girls do their acting out in ways that we don’t connect to being bullied, at least till they get to high school. The study started out talking about parental characteristics and then switched to maternal warmth. Didn’t we stop blaming the mothers a long time ago? And didn’t any of these kids have fathers? I don’t see much about the role of fathers in promoting resiliency. I continue to think that we underestimate the child’s need for a father or male role model, who takes an active part in a child’s life.
For those of you who are purists,’ the reference for this study is: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 51:7 (2010), pp 809–817.
So what do you think? Does maternal warmth matter? Should a father ever be warm to his children? And does anyone else out there have any suggestions for reducing the bullying and increasing the resiliency of kids who have been bullied?
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.