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Bullying: How an ‘authoritative’ parenting style can help

When my friend and colleague Jason Brand, a Berkeley, Calif.-based family therapist, points an article out to me, I pay attention. He and I were discussing resilience as a protective factor in children’s use of social media, and Jason pointed out an article in Scientific American by psychologist Abigail Baird at Vassar College. She wrote it in 2010, when emotions around the tragic case of Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince’s suicide were running high, so I needed to get past the first part to see what Jason found useful, and – whether or not you’re a psychologist – I think you will find this informative too. He zoomed in on what fosters in kids the resilience that reduces the impacts that bullying and cyberbullying can have on them: “authoritative parenting.”

Pointing to a study in the Journal of Youth & Adolescence that looked at what connections teens around age 15 made between bullying and self-harm or suicide, Baird writes, “The authors found that ‘authoritative parents’ … can make a difference.

“Authoritative parents are good listeners,” she continues. “They are able to provide comfort and guidance when their children encounter stress, and help them forge appropriate responses. Adolescents of authoritative parents feel respected by their parents, and in turn respect the limits set on them. Their parents are involved in their lives to the extent that they know who their friends are and where they hang out, but are not overly enmeshed in the adolescent’s life [this includes the digital/online part]. Among the participants in this study, this parenting style significantly reduced the negative impact of bullying,” which we know from the research includes cyberbullying.

Baird points out another key part of resilience: self-control. Young people who have learned how to give themselves time to control their emotions and reactions rather than act on impulse are less affected by the meanness or bullying of others (please see the article for more on that).

If parents wonder what all this looks like “on the ground,” at home, in everyday life, among the Comments below Baird’s piece, a self-professed authoritative parent took the time to describe her experience with “a gifted child who was painfully shy when he was younger. He got bullied pretty badly at a few points, and together we solved the problems as they arose.” See that comment for how they did that.

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