Family violence influences bullying behaviours21 Apr 2009, PR 76/09 Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, have published new research which highlights the influence of family factors, such as maltreatment or abusive parenting, as important risk indicators for children becoming involved in bullying once they reach school age.
These findings, published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
, are significant because they emphasize the need to extend future interventions and focus beyond schools to examine how families influence children’s risks of being affected by bullying behaviour.
The children questioned were part of a nationally-representative sample of 2,232 children and their families, and sought to identify factors that make children more likely to be bullied or bully others. Children who are either victims or bullies, and especially such that are bully-victims, are at increased risk of emotional or behavioural problems compared to children who are not involved in bullying.
Lucy Bowes, Lead author and researcher in the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry said: 'We show that young children experiencing maltreatment in the family before school age have an increased vulnerability to being involved in bullying at school. Our research results indicate that including families in bullying interventions may help reduce the number of children involved in bullying during early school years. In addition school teaching staff could perhaps also provide children who have experienced violence at home with additional emotional support to help make school a ‘safe zone’ free from further victimisation.
'We also know that children who have experienced violence at home are at increased risk of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. These problems can be further triggered by exposure to other abusive situations in the school environment, so children experiencing victimisation at home and in school are especially vulnerable. In our sample we saw that those children who have been maltreated at home are twice as likely to become bully-victims at school. Identifying and helping these children could limit the harm caused by being victimised early in life.'
Symptoms of anxiety or depression
In the sample, 12 per cent of the children had been bullied by the age of seven, 16 per cent of children had bullied others and five per cent had been both victimised and had bullied others (bully-victims). The researchers found that children who showed symptoms of anxiety or depression (for example being shy, or fearful, crying a lot) were more likely to be involved in bullying as victims or bullies.
Children who showed antisocial behaviours such as aggression or delinquency (for example stealing, vandalism, lying) were more likely to be bullies or bully-victims. Secondly they found that over and above these symptoms, children who had been maltreated were twice as likely to be bullied or bully-victims compared to those who had not been maltreated.
Children who were exposed to domestic violence were one and a half times more likely to bully others compared to children who did not experience such violence at home. Children who spent little time with their parents engaging in stimulating activities such as going to a park or a museum were more likely to be bully-victims. Children’s schools size (i.e larger schools) also influenced their risk of being bullied, as did the neighbourhoods in which they lived (for example areas with many conflicts between neighbours).
[Image V3016039G from the King's Image Library]Notes to editors
The paper entitled “School, neighbourhood, and family factors are associated with children’s bullying involvement: A nationally longitudinal study” is published online by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
. The authors were: Lucy N Bowes, Louise Arseneault, Barbara Maughan, Alan Taylor, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E Moffitt. The research has been funded by the MRC (UK) and the Jacobs Foundation.
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