The role of the family
Children are a reflection of their family. They inherit genes, predispositions, attitudes and behaviors that affect their likelihood of remaining resilient in the face of bullying or increase their likelihood of becoming a target, a bully or both. Let’s look at this major influence on their behavior.
The deluxe model
The democratic family functions best with the stresses of today’s society. Children receive encouragement, praise, rewards and consequences. In this family, activities and duties, skills and difficulties are discussed openly and regularly. Children are heard and respected. They learn how to discuss problems and how to obtain help in solving them. Parents who use democratic discipline don’t need to bully. These family systems have firm, fair, clearly established boundaries and guidelines. If children break the rules and hurt others, they face consequences.
A child is affected by her position within the family and the ages of her siblings. A significant age gap between the siblings positions the younger one to become a ‘pseudo-adult’, overprotected but socially neglected. She confronts less competition and fewer responsibilities, and has less opportunity to develop assertive social skills. Single children may lack the social survival techniques that come from daily skirmishes with siblings.
Many parents are having children later nowadays, due to re-marriage and career reasons. Although older parents may have more time, they often treat their children as equals: they have less energy to establish firm behavior boundaries, and they become lax, overprotective or over controlling. Generally, older parents mix with their friends unless they can socialize with others who have children of similar ages, so their children have less opportunity to mix with their peers, but relate well to adults
The family jigsaw
Parenting is disrupted when there is only one main parent. Separation, divorce, re-partnering and stepsiblings also disrupt traditional parenting and discipline patterns. The child may feel vulnerable, confused, angry, guilty and abandoned. Her self-esteem is lowered and she has less energy to deal with school problems. The child who spends time with both parents has to adjust to different parenting styles, including the handling of love and discipline.
Some children are raised mainly by grandparents. Unfortunately, grandparents can confuse the child and sabotage the parents’ role. They can spoil, overprotect and indulge, but provide fewer boundaries and less discipline. Inadvertently, this lowers a child’s self-esteem and her ability to handle difficult people. If grandparents are traditional, over controlling and less flexible, they won’t provide opportunities for the child to challenge them, which is essential for an assertive, confident child.
When parents have difficulties, their children are affected. The social child goes out with friends and switches off; the sensitive, shy, enmeshed child stays at home and worries. Parents with difficulties use this child to balance the tension between them, and the child become emotionally entrapped or involved with adult problems that she is ill-equipped to handle. Her self-esteem suffers and she has less energy to deal with school problems like bullying. If one parent, generally the mother, is bullied by the other, usually the male partner, children learn aggression and powerlessness.