An expert weighs in on if there’s a such thing as a bullyogenic parent, one whose mistakes turn their kids into bully magnets.
If humans are a product of their environment, it should stand to reason that bully magnets are created by their parents’ mistakes, rather than dealt a bad genetic hand at conception.
“There is surprisingly little research to support the notion that parenting styles can make children more likely to be a victim,” says Rona Novick, PhD, who developed the BRAVE bully prevention program.
A clinical psychologist, Dr. Novick has worked with schools nationally on the issue of bullying, and is director of the Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Doctoral Program at Yeshiva University, NY.
She adds that a lot of what puts kids at risk for bullying has to do with their reactivity to situations and how much they show their distress.
“This is a characteristic largely fueled by temperament, a child’s predominate biological nature.” Sometimes this can be observed even in infancy; a mellow, “easy” baby versus a fidgeting, demanding baby.
Dr. Novick says that parents of very reactive children are no more to blame for this than they are for their child’s height.
“Of course, being blessed with a reactive child, parents can certainly make things worse.
“Overprotectiveness is the one parental characteristic that research has found mildly connected to a child being bullied.
“Certainly, once a child is victimized, it is so natural for a parent to want to run to the rescue, or to teach the bully a lesson.”
Dr. Novick cites a case of a man whose disabled daughter was getting bullied on her bus.
He boarded the bus and threatened the bullies. There are other cases of similar scenarios, in which a parent confronts their child’s bullies on a bus.
This may be effective for the moment. But then what happens after the parent gets off the bus?
The bullied student must “spend the school day in the company of the now aroused and possibly vengeful bullies,” says Dr. Novick.
“Parents need to be certain they are not making things worse, and they should listen to their children who are often the best informants about what will be embarrassing, inappropriate, or leave them in a worse position.”