Poor parenting, including being overprotective, increases a child’s risk of being bullied, according to a new study in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

Researchers from the University of Warwick in the U.K. performed a meta-analysis of 70 studies involving more than 200,000 children and found poor parenting techniques had the strongest effects on children who were both victims of bullying and bullies themselves, known as “bully-victims.”

“People often assume bullying is a problem for schools alone but it's clear from this study that parents also have a very important role to play,” Prof. Dieter Wolke of Warwick’s Department of Psychology and Division of Mental Health & Wellbeing, said in a press release. “We should therefore target intervention programmes not just in schools but also in families to encourage positive parenting practices such as warmth, affection, communication and support.” 

Researchers used the data and categorized parenting behaviors such as abuse, neglect, maladaptive parenting, and overprotection as negative parenting behavior and authoritative parenting, communication, parental involvement, support, supervision, and warmth as positive parenting behavior.

They found that overprotective parents also contributed to the likelihood their child would be bullied.

“Children need support but some parents try to buffer their children from all negative experiences,” Wolke said. “In the process, they prevent their children from learning ways of dealing with bullies and make them more vulnerable.”

The Importance of Autonomy

Researchers said overprotective parents may lack their own autonomy and self-assertion and overcompensate by protecting their children, making them easy targets for bullies. 

A study earlier this year in the journal Child Development highlighted the importance of autonomy, namely in the high school years.

While studying the effects of friendship in teens, University of Virginia researchers found that a certain level of autonomy from one’s peers helps create an overall feeling of well-being. This includes everything from feeling comfortable from liking different music to standing up when someone is being bullied.

The Lasting Effects of Bullying

Research released earlier this year showed the heightened level of anxiety from bullying can have a dramatic effect on a person well into adulthood. 

Researchers from Duke University found victims of bullying have a higher rate of developing depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and antisocial or suicidal tendencies. 

"The long shadow of bullying falls well beyond the school playground – it has lasting and profound effects into adulthood,” Prof. Wolke said. “We know that victims and bully-victims are more likely to develop physical health problems, suffer from anxiety and depression and are also at increased risk of self-harm and suicide.”

The Duke team of researchers, as well as the team from Warwick, stress that effective anti-bullying starts in the home. 

"Parenting that includes clear rules about behaviour while being supportive and emotionally warm is most likely to prevent victimization,” Wolke said. "These parents allow children to have some conflicts with peers to learn how to solve them rather than intervene at the smallest argument."

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