Bullies aren’t born. They’re made. Although some authorities say children can be born with a disposition to bully, the environment in which they’re reared makes all the difference.

It’s not surprising that mean parents raise mean children. But what is surprising is that overly permissive and neglectful parents make bullies, too.

In a September 2016 article, magazine Scientific American cited an illuminating study by the University of Washington and Arizona State University. The universities conducted a retrospective study of 419 college students and found that “parental authoritativeness — in which parents are warm and caring but set rules for the sake of their child’s safety — lowered kids’ risk of being bullied. Both permissive and authoritarian (strict) parenting styles, on the other hand, were positively correlated with bullying other kids, according to the results published in January in Substance Use and Misuse. Both approaches can result in a lack of respect for rules and the rights of others.”

Scientific American in the same article also cited a 2012 study in the Journal of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation in which researchers investigated online bullying in a sample of college students and found that “those with permissive parents had engaged in more bullying behaviors than participants with authoritarian and authoritative parents. Neglectful parenting was associated with the most bullying.”

As Valerie Wells reports in today’s installment of The Daily News’ series “Bullied to the Brink,” no parents interviewed for the article believed they were raising a bully. Studies posit that as many as one-third of children are bullied at school by other children. So, someone is raising bullies.

All too often, the burden of responsibility falls on schools, which should share in the efforts to prevent and stop bullying.

But parents share equal responsibility, if not more. In 2013, a New York student took her aggressors and their parents to court. We don’t think that’s a bad idea.

But it’s a complicated subject, as Wells reports. Ringleader bullies have high social capital and are skilled in understanding who to target and how to manipulate events. They are popular and can charm adults. They bully to dominate others.

Another category of bullies are bully-victims who can’t regulate emotions and were victims of bullying themselves. They bully because they don’t know how to resolve conflicts.

Prevention is always preferable to retribution. It might save a lot of torment and heartache and make schools safer if parents and teachers took the advice of experts interviewed for today’s article and taught empathy. It might help some adults to learn about empathy themselves.

With all this talk about bullying, it’s easy to get the idea that schools are mean places and childhood is a mean time. But that’s not widely true. And another article in this series and in today’s paper features some very smart and courageous students who refuse to be victims of bullying, nor will they stand by and watch others be bullied. They’re talking about the issue and working to stop bullies in their tracks.

Next week, we’ll wrap up what we considered a very important series on a positive note with more examples of what people are doing to stop bullying and some ideas for solutions to the problem.

The Daily News, however, will continue covering this issue periodically and welcomes story tips and ideas on the subject.

• Laura Elder

Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

Managing Editor

In this Series

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