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Teens 'mocked' by their parents are at greater risk for bullying, victimization

July 09, 2019

New evidence suggests that adolescent bullying and victimization may have origins in the home. Many bullies have parents who are hostile, punitive and rejecting. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and Uppsala University in Sweden, have identified another type of parenting that contributes to peer difficulties: those who direct derision and contempt at their children.

Derisive parents use demeaning or belittling expressions that humiliate and frustrate the child, without any obvious provocation from the child. These parents respond to child engagement with criticism, sarcasm, put-downs and hostility, and rely on emotional and physical coercion to obtain compliance.

The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, emphasizes the emotional underpinnings of peer difficulties. The researchers followed 1,409 children for three consecutive years from grades 7 to 9 (ages 13-15 years).

Findings show that derisive parenting fosters dysregulated anger in adolescent children. Dysregulated anger is indicative of difficulties regulating emotion, which typically result in negative emotions, verbal and physical aggression, and hostility. Increases in dysregulated anger, in turn, place adolescents at greater risk for bullying and victimization, and for becoming bully-victims (bullies who also are victimized by other bullies).

The latter finding is noteworthy given that past research indicates that bully-victims are at the greatest risk for poor mental health, behavioral difficulties, and suicidal thoughts when compared to "pure" victims, "pure" bullies, or non-victims. Identification of the family-specific origins of bully-victim status may be a key step in limiting or preventing such poor outcomes.

Importantly, these findings held after controlling for parenting behaviors implicated in child adjustment, such as warmth, control and physical punishment. This study suggests that derisive behavior is a unique form of parenting that increases the risks that adolescent children will adopt inappropriate anger management strategies that increases their risk for peer difficulties.

"Inappropriate interpersonal responses appear to spread from parents to children, where they spawn peer difficulties. Specifically, derisive parenting precipitates a cycle of negative affect and anger between parents and adolescents, which ultimately leads to greater adolescent bullying and victimization," said Brett Laursen, Ph.D., co-author and a professor of psychology in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. "Our study is important because it provides a more complete understanding of how parents' belittling and critical interactions with adolescents thwart their ability to maintain positive relationships with peers."

Daniel J. Dickson, Ph.D., Department of Psychology at Concordia University, is the senior author of the study.

"Implications from our study are far-reaching: practitioners and parents should be informed of the potential long-term costs of sometimes seemingly harmless parenting behaviors such as belittlement and sarcasm," said Dickson. "Parents must be reminded of their influence on adolescents' emotions and should take steps to ensure that adolescents do not feel ridiculed at home."
-end-
Co-authors are Olivia Valdes, a Ph.D. student in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and Håkan Stattin, Ph.D, Department of Psychology at Uppsala University.

This research was funded by The Research Council for Working Life and Social Science of Sweden (grant number 2004-1981) awarded to Stattin, and the National Science Foundation (0909733 and 162094) and the National Institutes of Health (grant HD096457) awarded to Laursen.

About Florida Atlantic University:

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU's world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU's existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit fau.edu.

Florida Atlantic University

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