Parents’ Anger, Involvement with their Children Associated with Bullying

October 18, 2012

Children whose parents frequently feel angered or bothered by them are more likely to bully their peers, according to a new study by a Children’s Medical Center pediatrician. However, parents who communicate closely with their child, meet their child’s friends and provide academic encouragement are less likely to see their child bully others, the study found.

The latest research study led by Dr. Rashmi Shetgiri – published online today by the American Journal of Public Health – also found that children whose mothers have less than optimal mental health have higher odds of becoming bullies.

“We discovered how important parental communication and involvement with their children can be in preventing bullying,” Shetgiri said. “There has been a lot of focus on the schools when it comes to bullying … (but) the parental factors have not been as much a part of the conversation as they probably should be.”

Shetgiri’s study used data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health to examine how parental factors affect the likelihood of children aged 10-17 bullying others. The study was co-authored by Dr. Glenn Flores, director of Children’s General Pediatrics Division.

Other studies about bullying conducted in the United States have usually relied on children’s reports to researchers. But the survey used in Shetgiri’s research relies on interviews conducted with parents.

“Children of parents who were frequently angry with their child and felt that their child bothered them a lot had more than double the odds of bullying perpetration,” Shetgiri’s study states. “These parents’ responses may reflect an overall pattern of negative interactions with their child, in which the child may model aggressive responses learned from the parents, which may translate into bullying.”

Shetgiri said it’s important for parents to be aware of their feelings and the behavior they are modeling in front of their children. Parents should “try to recognize when they are reacting in an angry or irritable way with their children as this may influence how their children behave toward others,” she said.

Shetgiri’s study also concluded children who always or usually completed their homework are less likely to bully others. “I can never state enough the importance of (parents) being as present and involved in a child’s life as possible,” she said.

Other findings from Shetgiri’s study: 

  • Children living in poverty have nearly twice the odds of bullying their peers.

  • Children between 10 and 12 years old are more likely to be bullies than children aged 16-17.

  • African-American and Latino children have higher odds of bullying their peers when compared to white children, whereas Asian/Pacific Islander children have lower odds.

Shetgiri’s study concludes that children at risk of engaging in bullying behavior may be identified by assessing for emotional, developmental and behavioral problems and by evaluating their parents’ perceptions and their mothers’ mental health. 

“Negative parental perceptions of the child … and suboptimal maternal mental health were associated with higher odds of child bullying perpetration, whereas positive parental involvement … was associated with lower odds of bullying,” the study concludes.

The study includes the largest known U.S. sample to be analyzed for risks and protective factors for bullying perpetration.

Shetgiri also is an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Flores is a professor of pediatrics, clinical sciences and public health at the academic institution.

About Children’s Medical Center

The private, not-for-profit Children's Medical Center is the fifth-largest pediatric healthcare provider in the country, with 559 licensed beds, two full-service campuses and 10 outpatient sites. Children’s was the state’s first pediatric hospital to achieve Level 1 Trauma status and is the only pediatric teaching facility in North Texas, affiliated with UT Southwestern Medical Center. For more information, please visit