Parents are bullied by other parents

Life in the school yard can be ruthless. Children have an amazing repertoire of atrocities associated with their peers. But which factors decide whether a child is one of the perpetrators or the victims; whether it hands out meanness and cruelty or has to take it?

Psychologists around Dieter Wolke from the British University of Warwick have now analyzed to what extent the parenting style of the parents influences how children survive in the battle arena of the schoolyard (Child Abuse & Neglect, online). For their work, the researchers evaluated 70 studies from previous years in which a total of more than 200,000 children had participated. Children with particularly protective parents therefore have a slightly higher risk of becoming victims of bullying, for example.

Bullying at school is a global problem, the authors emphasize. According to a 2012 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), around a third of all children are victims of aggressive behavior by their peers. This has long-term consequences for the terrorized children, emphasizes Wolke, and the consequences can still be clearly felt in adulthood.

For example, bullied children are more likely to suffer physical problems later on and are also at a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety disorders or other mental illnesses in adulthood.

The parenting style of the parents, in turn, influences the ability of children to find their way around school with their peers and, if necessary, to defend themselves against violent schoolmates.

According to the data of the psychologists, a particularly strict parental home did not create good conditions for children to survive in the schoolyard. Children with authoritarian parents or those who received a lot of negative feedback at home showed a slightly increased risk of being bullied.

The children of particularly protective parents had a similarly higher risk - a surprising finding, as Wolke finds. Children from a particularly warm nest may not have the tools to cope with the schoolyard offenders, says the psychologist. Those who keep their children away from all negative experiences are likely to make them particularly vulnerable, said Wolke.

The data of the current meta-analysis also show that the victims of the accident are almost haunted: If children are harassed by their siblings at home, they are also more likely to suffer from meanness from schoolmates.

The lowest risk of falling victim to chronic teasing and physical attacks had children whose parents insisted on clear rules of conduct at home - but on the other hand were able to convey emotional warmth and security.

In addition, these parents let their children fight conflicts with their peers without intervening immediately, says Wolke. In this way it is possible for the children to learn strategies, to deal with arguments and to develop a self-confidence that is hardly open to attack in the schoolyard.