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Another question focuses on how family functioning can translate into the behavioral difficulties in the school context that contribute to the establishment and maintenance of bully-victim relationships. Although much has been learned about how parent-child relationships affect aggressive development (for a review, see Hodges, Card, & Isaacs, 2002; Perry et al., 2001), relatively little research has been devoted to understanding how parent-child relationships contribute to the likelihood of children becoming victimized by their peers. Below, we review recent research that focuses on two areas of family functioning--attachment quality and parental child-rearing practices.
Attachment histories appear to play an important role in establishing aggressive-victim relationships. Aggressive-victim dyads are more likely to be composed of individuals with histories of insecure attachment with their mother (Troy & Sroufe, 1987). Subtypes of insecurity (avoidant or preoccupied) also appear to provide information regarding whether individuals adopt the bully or victim role within these dyads. Children with avoidant relationship stances toward their mother deny distress and affection regarding their mother, fail to seek comfort from their mother when upset, avoid their mother during reunion and exploration of their environment, and refuse to utilize their mother as a task-relevant resource. Children with preoccupied relationship stances experience an overwhelming need for their mother when faced with novelty and stress-eliciting situations, trouble separating from their mother, excessive concern over their mother's whereabouts, prolonged upset following reunion, and trouble exploring their environment or meeting challenges. Avoidant attachment has been found to predict, concurrently and over time, aggression and externalizing behaviors. Preoccupied attachment has been found to predict victimization and internalizing behaviors (Finnegan, Hodges, & Perry, 1996; Hodges, Finnegan, & Perry, 1999).
Children are more likely to be victimized if their parents engage in practices that impede autonomy development or threaten the parent-child relationship (e.g., Finnegan, Hodges, & Perry, 1998; Ladd & Ladd, 1998), although gender specific linkages may exist. Maternal overprotectiveness and intense mother-child closeness are positively associated with victimization, especially among boys (Finnegan et al., 1998; Ladd & Ladd, 1998; cf. Lagerspetz et al., 1982; Rigby, Slee, & Cunningham, 1999). Intrusive demandingness, coercion, and threats of rejection are linked to victimization, especially among girls (Finnegan et al., 1998; Ladd & Ladd, 1998). Child abuse, a more extreme form of coercive parenting behavior, has also been connected to victimization by peers (Duncan, 1999; Shields & Cicchetti, 2001). This relation has been accounted for by elevated emotional dysregulation by abused youths (Shields & Cicchetti, 2001). This suggests that the process by which many of these familial correlates antecede victimization is through the fostering of personal factors (e.g., emotional dysregulation or internalizing difficulties; see also Finnegan et al., 1996) that may be transferred to, and expressed in, the peer group.
It is likely that family influences on victimization depend largely on whether children form quality peer relationships at school. However, only one study, to our knowledge, has directly examined this possibility. Schwartz and his colleagues (Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit, Bates, & the Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2000) found that the relation between an early harsh environment (homes characterized by high levels of marital conflict, stress, abuse, hostility, and harsh discipline) and victimization by peers was nonexistent for children with many friends and exacerbated for children with few friends. Other extraschool context influences on victimization also appear to depend on children's relationships with peers at school. For example, Schwartz et al. (in press) found that the effect of community violence exposure on victimization was present only for those who had established relatively high numbers of enemies.
Implications for psychologists. It is important to recognize that, although etiological factors may extend to the home context, children who are fortunate enough to establish quality interpersonal relationships and to avoid negative interpersonal relationships are likely to reduce or eliminate the associations of inept or low quality parent-child relations to peer victimization. One caveat to the literature reviewed above, however, is that most studies examining linkages between the family and victimization by peers have been concurrent in nature, limiting the ability to infer direction of effect. It may be possible, for example, that children who are victimized by peers behave in ways that affect parents' choices of discipline strategies. Although there is a need for longitudinal research that untangles the causal direction of these effects, school psychologists should be hopeful in that they are empowered to effect change in developmental trajectories arising from the home context by focusing on, and being sensitive to, children's peer relationships at school.
- Rodkin, Philip C., Hodges, Ernest V. E., Bullies and Victims in the Peer Ecology: Four Questions for Psychological and School Professionals. School Psychology Review, 2003, Vol. 32, Issue 3
Reflection Exercise #9