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Overprotected Kids Are Easy Bully Targets

Update Date: Apr 26, 2013 08:00 AM EDT

While it's no surprise that abused or neglected kids are more likely to end up being bullies or victims of bullying, a new study reveals that children with overprotective parents are also more likely to be victims of bullying.

The latest meta-analysis of 70 studies that included more than 200,000 children, found that poor parenting is an important and often overlooked factor in childhood bullying.

In the study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, poor parenting behaviors included maladaptive parenting, abuse, neglect, and "overprotection". Positive parenting behaviors included authoritative parenting, parent-child communication, parental involvement and support, supervision and warmth and affections.

The study revealed that children of overprotective parents were 10 percent more likely to be victims of bullying than other children. Researchers also found that negative or harsh parenting was linked to a moderated increase in the risk of being a bully and a small increase in the risk of being a victim of bullying.

On the other hand, the study revealed that warm but firm parenting reduced the risk of being bullied by peers.

"Although parental involvement, support and high supervision decrease the chances of children being involved in bullying, for victims overprotection increased this risk," Professor Dieter Wolke, of the University of Warwick, said in a journal news release.

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

Researchers say that children with overprotective parents "may be easy targets for bullies" because they have not developed qualities such as autonomy and assertion.

"But it could also be that parents of victims become overprotective of their children," Wolke noted. "In either case, parents cannot sit on the school bench with their children."

Wolke said that parenting that includes clear rules about behavior while being supportive and emotionally warm is most likely to prevent children from being bullied.

"These parents allow children to have some conflicts with peers to learn how to solve them rather than intervene at the smallest argument," Wolke explained.

Researchers said that childhood bullying has lasting and profound effects into adulthood.  Previous studies revealed that victims and bullies are more likely to develop physical health problems, suffer from anxiety and depression, and are also at increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

"It is vital we understand more about the factors linked to bullying in order to reduce the burden it places on the affected children and society," Wolke said.

"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," he explained. "We should therefore target intervention programs not just in schools but also in families to encourage positive parenting practices such as warmth, affection, communication and support."

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