Bullying has become an increasingly popular topic of discussion in the media, among scholars, and ordinary people alike. With the suicide of Rutgers’s student Tyler Clementi and other cases of peer harassment, people have begun to ask the question, “What leads to bullying and how can we prevent it?” As mentioned in previous blogs, good influences are highly important for positive youth development to occur. Parental influences especially are a crucial factor in the development of youths and Psychologist Andre Christie-Mizell decided to explore the relationship between bullying and the amount of attention youths receive from their parents.
Behavior is driven by one’s perception of the world. If youths feel that they are not receiving enough attention from their parents, those feelings will have to be expressed elsewhere and usually it is through interaction with peers. Christie-Mizell’s study sought to answer, “What is the relationship between the number of hours parents work and adolescent bullying behavior?” and “What is the relationship between bullying behavior and a youth’s perception of the amount of time their parents spend with them?” He classifies bullying behavior as being cruel to others, being disobedient at school, hanging around kids who get in trouble, having a very strong temper and not being sorry for misbehaving.
The results of this study were shocking because they defy the conventional idea of which parent has the most influence on a child’s development. Christie-Mizell himself began his research with the thought that the mother’s work hours would have the most impact on whether children exhibit bullying behavior. In patriarchal societies, it is the mother who has the greatest responsibility of caring for and monitoring the children. However, he discovered that bullying behavior increased when fathers spent too much time working and youths perceived that they did not spend enough time with their fathers.
Christie-Mizell studied the behavior and perceptions of 687 children ages 10 to 14 years old and living in two-parent households. He measured their bullying behavior using a scale based on the Behavior Problem Index (BPI), a 28-item scale designed to assess typical childhood behavior syndromes. He also observed their parents’ work hours. Mothers’ work hours had little to no effect on bullying behavior. This could be because youths perceive their mothers as being more accessible since they are primarily responsible for the responsibilities at home.
Also, approximately 40% of the mothers and 47% of their spouses/partners worked full-time (35 to 40 hours per week) and 15% of mothers and 50% of their spouses/partners worked overtime (more than 40 hours per week). According to these statistics, fathers tend to work full-time and overtime jobs more often than mothers. Therefore, they would not have as much time as mothers to spend with their children. Christie-Mizell stated that, “What this research shows is that while it’s equally important for kids to spend time with both parents, fathers need to make an extra effort.” His suggestion is to set up a schedule for parent-child interaction in order to guide youth’s perceptions of how much time they spend with their parents.
Fathers have more of an influence on the development of youths than most people think. Thus, one way to solve the issue of bullying is to attack it at its root—helping to foster success and maturity in young males now so they grow up to be responsible fathers in the future, especially those who are at risk of falling prey to unfortunate circumstances. Otherwise, bullying is just another vicious cycle we cannot get around.
by Betty Diop (Re:LIFE Writer/Columnist)
B.A. Applied Psychology