Examining the Vexing Link Between Child Abuse and Bullying

By Writing Jackie

Isn’t it alarming that, over the past decade, nearly four times as many American children have been killed in their own homes than US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? America’s children are suffering at the hands of their parents, other adults, and even their peers with more than 683,000 children falling victim to abuse every year. The consequences of child abuse are far-reaching and manifest themselves in countless ways. While some abused children completely withdraw from society, becoming sullen and depressed, others turn to aggression out of sheer frustration and a feeling of desolation, becoming the exact same thing they fear – a bully. A closer look at the correlation between being abused and bullying sheds some much-needed light on a very complex challenge facing the children of the USA.

The evidence speaks for itself

Abuse is undoubtedly cyclical. There is abundant evidence that children who are being abused physically or emotionally (or both) are likely to bully their peers or develop anxiety and suicidal thoughts as well as drug or alcohol-related problems. According to a study conducted by researchers from both the University of Washington and Indiana University, children who are exposed to any form of violence at home often lack common coping mechanisms and engage in higher levels of physical and relational bullying than those who grow up in a stable, loving home.

In January 2016 Child Abuse and Neglect published a study that found that, for girls, the risk of becoming a bully was closely connected to physical punishment whereas, with boys, it was linked psychologically aggressive parental behavior. If presented with effective coping skills and a timeous intervention, vulnerable children may find it easier to readjust to a normal, happy life after the abusive cycle has been halted. 

Children mimic what they see and experience

Children instinctively mimic their parents. Young girls want to wear high heels and makeup like Mom and little boys want nothing more to be big and strong just like Dad. Likewise, if a child is subjected to abuse at home, chances are he will imitate the same destructive behavior at school. A child’s mind is highly impressionable and if Mom and Dad do it, surely it must be acceptable?

Abused children, as well as those who witness abusive behavior, more often than not feel completely powerless. Such a child is often left immobilized with fear and attempts to regain some of his own power by bullying others. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, children who are exposed to abuse and domestic violence are twice as likely to resort to bullying, fighting, lying and cheating as well as be abusive towards their own partners and children when they are adults.

Beware the invisible child

Neglect is one of the most harrowing forms of child abuse as it often results in a child feeling completely invisible. In essence, children don’t want for much. They do, however, yearn for the safety of a home, food to fill their stomachs and the comfort provided by a loving adult. In a child’s eyes, no one is more important than his parents and he will constantly seek their approval, even well into adulthood. A child that receives no positive attention at home may become incensed, turning to bullying at school out of sheer frustration. According to Dr. Andre Christie-Mizell, associate professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, children who feel neglected by their parents often display hostile conduct towards their peers.

Regardless of how troubling a behavioral trait bullying is, it is important to remember that these children are still just children. They are acting out for a reason and their aggressive and manipulative behavior towards others is often a distinct and desperate call for help. Bullies require enormous amounts of love and guidance despite their worrying behavior and lack of coping skills. With the right intervention these vulnerable, troubled children can end up having happy, healthy and fulfilled lives as adults.

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