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A recent study found that one in three teens report being victims of dating violence and that girls are as likely as boys to be perpetrators of violence. These startling findings are a wake-up call for parents.

The study collected an online survey from over 1,000 dating teens. The purpose of the relevant portion of the survey was to determine the incidence of dating violence, including physical violence (hitting, slapping), sexual violence (including forced advances), and psychological or emotional violence (threats, extortion). These forms of violence mirror the Adverse Childhood Experiences matrix that has established long-term negative physical and mental health effects on adult lives.

Researchers found that girls are almost equally likely to report being a perpetrator of dating violence (35%) as they are to report being a victim (41%). Thirty-seven percent of boys report being a victim of dating violence and 29% report being a perpetrator. Twenty-nine percent of girls and 24% of boys report being both a perpetrator and a victim of dating violence.

Girls were much more likely to report being victims of sexual violence and were also much more likely than boys to commit physical violence. Accordingly, boys were more likely to report being a perpetrator of sexual violence. Boys and girls were about equal in their reports about inflicting and receiving psychological violence.

The older teens got, the more likely they were to report violence. But findings were similar across race and income levels. The findings of this study match findings in a smaller study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So what does this mean for us parents?

Do what you can to dial down the violence in teen relationships and reduce the level of coercion and meanness. A third of children is way too many to have hurtful experiences so young.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

A study reported recently in the journal Pediatrics found that there can possibly be more to sibling rivalry than a little friendly competition. It can be linked to mental health problems.

Nearly 3600 children ages birth to 17 were asked to describe incidents of aggression perpetrated on them by a sibling over the past year (parents responded in place of their children ages 9 and younger).

Researchers found that children who experienced aggression at the hands of a sibling, including physical harm, intimidation, taunting, excessive teasing, and intentional destruction of toys or other property, suffered mental distress severe enough to leave lasting emotional scars.

For these children, sibling rivalry had escalated to the level of bullying. They felt unsafe in their homes.

Lead author of the study, Corinna Jenkins Tucker, concedes that “siblings are going to fight.” What was different for some of the siblings in her study was the level of animosity and seriousness of the conflict. Jenkins Tucker notes that sibling victims were much more likely than other children to be anxious, depressed, or angry, even if the hostility appeared to be “not that bad” or “only being mean, not actually hurting anyone.”

Parents come to expect sibling rivalry as a normal part of family life. But parents should be aware of what is going on between their children. They should take seriously a child’s complaints about his brother or sister and note if the rivalry has escalated into something more. Parents should definitely intervene to protect a child from being bullied at home.

What can you do if your children seriously don’t get along? What can you do if you believe one child’s treatment her brother or sister is harmful? According to Jenkins Tucker, kids can be taught to fight fair:

1. Take time to teach children how to see another person’s point of view.

2. Teach children how to negotiate a solution, instead of needing to win.

3. Model good behavior yourself: avoid shaming, sarcasm, name-calling, and hitting. Avoid using threats and extortion to control children’s behavior.

4. Model good conflict resolution skills. Remember that a child who bullies others often was bullied himself.

Being the target of a bully doesn’t make a child stronger or tougher. It only makes him sad, scared and angry.

All your children deserve to feel safe at home.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

Most parents know that being overly negative and harsh can turn children into bullies or victims of bullies. It’s something of a surprise to discover that being overly kind and protective runs the same risks.

The link between negative parenting and bullying behavior makes sense. Kids copy what they’ve experienced at home so children who’ve been pushed around by their parents push others around themselves. In addition, children of harsh parents are at risk of becoming victims of bullies, since kids in these families have become used to being pushed around and may not know how to stand up for themselves.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick found this lack of self-reliance a factor for children of over-protective parents. These children, who are sheltered by mom and dad from managing their own affairs, have few resources for dealing with bullies. These kids can be viewed as easy targets, who are likely to cave in to a bully’s demands, because they have had little experience in standing up for themselves.

The study’s lead author, Dieter Wolke, points out that parenting that is warmly affectionate but that also supports children’s independence leads to the best outcomes for kids. Children of these “respectful” parents have learned through experience how to handle dicey situations and they also know their parents care what happens to them. Unlike children raised in either punitive or permissive households, these children have the social skills and problem solving strategies to stay out of trouble.

Bullying, of course, is not simply a childhood phenomenon. As Wolke points out, “The long shadow of bullying falls well beyond the school playground — it has lasting and profound effects into adulthood.” Both bullies and their victims have a higher risk of developing physical health problems as adults, are more likely to suffer depression and anxiety disorders as they grow to adulthood, and are at greater risk of self-harm and suicide.

What this study confirms is that bullying behavior is not just a school problem and it cannot be solved by school interventions. Bullying behavior and its complement, victim behavior, are learned at home, in the interactions between parents and children.

Most of all, despite the worry parents naturally feel about their children becoming victims of schoolyard bullies, the solution is not overprotection. The solution lies in helping children feel confident about their abilities. Here are some hints:
1. Let children solve their own problems unless there is obvious danger or abuse.
2. Teach children strategies for negotiating conflict, including simply walking away.
3. Most of all, use parenting techniques that are neither permissive nor punitive, but that walk a middle path of guidance and support.

As researcher Wolke says, smart parents “allow children to have some conflicts with peers to learn how to solve them rather than intervene at the smallest argument.”

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

If you are the parent of a child aged nine and up, you are already aware of the shift in perspective that happens in the preteen years. Suddenly, peers and friendships take on more importance than before. While your child still values your opinion, you certainly are no longer the center of your child’s social world. Her friends are. And with this shift comes a need to keep from you some of what’s going on.

You might not be told everything. Your child will keep from you things that he thinks should be secret. He may not tell you things that are just between him and his friends. And this, obviously, can be a problem, because he is not yet a good judge of what he can handle and what you need to know.

Keeping secrets can become something of an obsession in the preteen years. This is the age of the locked diary, after all. Mystery, intrigue, and hidden information of all sorts attract older elementary school students. Being able to keep a secret is a mark of self-control and competence and kids this age know it.

So children in the preteen years are likely to keep secrets. In addition, your child’s friends may make her pledge to keep a secret. Your child may be burdened not only with secrets of her own but with the secrets of others and the weight of a promise not to tell.

Couple this interest in secrets and the power of children’s social relationships with a preteen’s growing awareness of adult issues and sexual vulnerability and it’s obvious that a kid can get in over his head pretty quickly. Keeping secrets becomes a trap. Even if he is not personally involved in his friends’ worries, hearing about them and pledging to keep them secret can cause your child problems. Research has shown that adolescents who keep secrets and cannot unburden themselves to a trusted adult are more anxious and troubled than children who are not.

You cannot derail the interest in secrets. But you can keep the lines of communication open. Do this in two ways:

•   First, have a conversation with your child today – before you even think there’s a secret she’s keeping – about sharing important information. Let her know that some things should be told, even if it seems scary or dangerous. Let her know that if a friend shares a secret, your child should decide herself if keeping the secret is a good idea or if telling an adult is actually the better course of action. Empower your child to be thoughtful about secrets.

•   Second, make certain you are someone who can be trusted with confidential information. Be someone who isn’t easily shocked, who doesn’t immediately jump to conclusions, and who doesn’t shush or shame a child for revealing disturbing information. If you want your child to tell you what’s bothering him, you have to be the sort of person who makes things better, not someone who makes things worse. You establish your credibility over time. The time to start being open-minded and non-judgmental is now.

Help your child and your child’s friends know the difference between secrets that are fun to keep and secrets that must be shared.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.