When girls are bullied, a mother’s affection can help them avoid aggressive or antisocial behavior later, a new study shows. For boys, the same doesn’t appear to be true.
A new study of more than 1.000 children older than 8 shows that, for girls, a mothers’ warmth and open communication significantly reduces the harmful effects of being victimized by peers.
For boys, early negative peer experiences lead to a significant increase in antisocial outcomes, regardless of their relationships with their mothers.
The study, published in the journal Social Development, looked at which family and parental factors mitigated or intensified the effect of adverse peer relationships.
“Children who develop hostile and distrustful relationships with their parents due to low parental warmth and responsiveness may adopt similar patterns of negative expectations when engaging with peers, as a result of their greater fear and anxiety,” says Grace Yang, a research fellow at the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author.
Study participants were asked questions about bullying in school or in the neighborhood in the previous month. They rated if someone “picked on me or said mean things to me,” “hit me,” or “purposely left me out of my friends’ activities.” About 68 percent of the kids reported being a target.
In a home visit, researchers evaluated the mother’s warmth by the way she talked to her child, showed pride or pleasure toward him or her, and if she was cold, harsh, or hostile. Family conflict, which involves physical and verbal aggression, was also factored.
Boys and moms
Boys who were bullied more frequently displayed higher levels of antisocial behavior five years after the initial interview despite family or parenting factors. How girls responded to bullying, however, depended on the parent and family dynamics.
Gender differences in moderating influences may be due to how boys and girls behave with peers and where they spent their time.
If boys have larger friendship and peer networks than girls, the peers may assume greater influence in boys’ emotional lives. In consequence, boys’ response to bullying would depend less on family interaction patterns and more on peer interactions, Yang says.
Also, mothers reported less communication with sons than daughters.
Boys talk less with their mothers, and consequently receive less support and intervention on their behalf to lessen the occurrence and mitigate the negative effects of bullying.
“This difference probably reflects a lesser tendency for sons, compared with daughters, to initiate discussions with their mothers,” says Vonnie McLoyd, professor of psychology.
Future studies will need to factor in the fathers’ and siblings’ influences on bullying, the researchers say.
Source: University of Michigan