Young people who share close ties with their family members are more likely to act against bullying or aggressive behaviour in school, a latest study indicates. The study found that children who were discriminated or excluded by their friends or teachers were less likely to intervene or act against bullying of peers and friends.

This recent study was conducted by researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina. The aim of the study was to investigate how family and school support empowered school children to take a stand against bullying or aggression in schools.

The researcher conducted a survey with 459 sixth-graders and 446 ninth-graders and asked them questions in relation to the relationship they shared with their family members, teachers and peers. Participants of the survey were given six scenarios or situations, each of which was tackled with a specific aggressive action including cyberbullying, physical aggression, intimate partner violence, social aggression such as teasing, exclusion by a former friend and rejection by a particular group.

For each of the specified scenarios, the participants were asked to rate the act on a six-point scale, ranging from “really not OK” (1) to “really OK” (6). Participants were asked to judge their acceptability of intervening with the same scale. Each of the participants were then asked to estimate the likelihood of engaging in the six different responses, ranging from intervening and addressing the bully directly or walking away from the situation. Lastly, the participants were asked how OK it was for the victim to retaliate again their aggressor and whether it was OK to intervene, in order to prevent the act or not.

Family Ties

The study highlighted a strong relationship between family and school life and the reaction of the child towards the particular act. It found that more the students were discriminated by people close to them, the more likely they were to walk away or do nothing against the act. On the other, pupils with positive relationships with family and teachers were more likely to intervene in or act against  bullying.

The results also revealed that sixth-graders found aggressive behavior highly unacceptable than ninth-graders. The study also found children were more likely to intervene, if they knew the victims of bullying were also planning to retaliate against the perpetrator.

Kelly Lynn Mulvey, assistant professor of Psychology at NC State and lead author of the research said, there was a lot of research on bullying, “but very little on the extent to which family factors affect whether bystanders will intervene if they see bullying”. “This is important because research has shown that peer interventions are very effective at stopping bullying and preventing future aggressive behaviours. But these interventions are fairly rare,” she added.

Seçil Gönültas, PhD scholar at NC State and co-author of the paper said, “We found that family is very important and the stronger a student’s reported ‘good family management,’ or positive family relationships, the more likely a student was to deem aggressive behaviours and retaliation unacceptable, and the more likely they were to intervene in either case.”

Researchers of the study also emphasised on the importance of family support and school life for tackling the growing menace of bullying in society. They urged the need for developing a positive family and school support system to help children in raising their voices against unjust actions like bullying etc.

The research has some important lessons for parents and teachers in Pakistan to follow. It portrays the importance of family support and teacher guidance in helping curb bullying at schools. Positive family relationships help a child feel secure and loved and confident about stepping in to stop acts that are unjust. Support from teachers is equally important, as it gives children the confidence to stand up for what is right. Sadly, both support systems in Pakistan have serious deficiencies. Physical punishment is common both at home and schools, making kids realise that might is the only way to get what you want.

In the other extreme case, parents will ignore a child’s every action, good or bad, all in the name of letting him or her “discover” things. What is needed is a fine balance between unending love and mindless punishment.

Positive relationships can only be achieved when kids are treated with respect for who they are, not ridiculed for shortcomings and not let go when they make serious follies. Fair treatment, both from parents and teachers is the first step that leads to the elimination of bullying, both at school and at home.

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