Research shows children of angry parents are more likely to bully

By Jan Jarvis

Parents’ behavior, more so than type of school or neighborhood, influence whether children become bullies, say researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center Dallas. 

Dr. Rashmi Shetgiri

An unsafe neighborhood or school was not associated with increased risk for becoming a bully, according to Dr. Rashmi Shetgiri, lead author of a study published online recently in Child Psychiatry and Human Development. But what did increase the odds a child would harass others was having a parent who frequently got mad at them.

“By becoming more aware of how they react to their child, parents may be able to change their own behavior, which may then affect their child’s behavior,” said Dr. Shetgiri, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern.

The research examined the prevalence of bullying reported by parents who took part in the National Survey of Children’s Health from 2003 to 2007. The survey showed that almost 1 in 6 adolescents bullied at least sometimes in 2007, compared to 1 in 5 in 2003. The study takes a more in-depth look at bullying than a similar abstract Dr. Shetgiri presented last year at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.

The study compared risk and protective factors associated with bullying in 2003 and 2007. Parents who reported that their children were bullies also reported feeling angry with them a lot, researchers found. Over time, parental anger with the child increased as a risk factor, while parents’ meeting their child’s friends increased as a protective factor. In 2003, for example, parents who reported always or usually feeling angry with their child were twice as likely to have a child who bullied, and in 2007 were three times as likely to have a child who bullied.

 “These are not parents who are angry every once in a while,” Dr. Shetgiri said. “These are parents who reported they were often or usually angry with their child in the past month.”

Other bullying risk factors include children with emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems and those whose mothers report “less than very good mental health,” researchers found.

 “About 1 in 5 bullies has an emotional, developmental, or behavioral problem – more than three times the rate in nonbullies. This suggests that it may be beneficial to evaluate bullies for emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems, and to evaluate children diagnosed with such problems for bullying behaviors,” Dr. Shetgiri said.

On the other hand, children whose parents have met most if not all of their friends are less likely to become bullies, Dr. Shetgiri said.

“What the research shows is that parents can make a difference,” she said.