It has been estimated by the journal of Child Development that 15 percent of kids around the world are victims of bullying. Though it is not uncommon to hear stories of bullying like the one you just read happening to kids of all ages, whether it is in a school yard, playground, or even classroom. When matters like this happen to a young one, they usually turn to the ones they trust the most to help protect them from harm. But what if the child’s bully is their own parent.
Psychiatrist, Janet Taylor, defines a bully as someone that consistently harasses and causes hurt feeling towards their victim to make them feel fearful, powerless, and helpless.
Sometimes bullies use emotional attacks such as humiliation, talking down in a way that makes them feel superior, or mind games; while others use physical attacks such as violence, towering over someone in order to intimidate them, or verbal attacks (including cyber bullying) to terrorize their victim. Yes, this sounds like such actions a child or a teenage bully would do to someone around their own age. But there are adult bullies out there that conduct themselves in the exact same way, but towards those much younger and weaker than them.
It may seem hard to believe that a parent would even think of hurting their own child in such a manner, but this is happening. However, some may feel that strict parenting could be easily misinterpreted as parental bullying. There are parents that are in full support of tough love because it makes kids less hypersensitive and not end up being spoiled brats. They reason that they grew up in an environment where their parent(s) ruled the household with an "iron fist" and it helped them be a better person in the long run—not mentally or emotionally damaged. They might even raise their children in the same aggressively-disciplined manner as well. These parents will justify their actions of bullying by calling it tough love. They will enforce this “my house, my rules” attitude; constantly reminding their kids that they feed and shelter them, so they can treat them any way they feel like.
Again, there is a big difference between disciplinary parenting and outright bullying. Discipline is supposed to teach a child right from wrong, not as a tool to control them. The whole point of parenting is to make a child grow up to be a responsible adult that handles life’s obstacles or blessings in a logical and grateful manner. Kids are to be encouraged and supported in whatever choices they make in life. It is only when a child is heading down a path of self destructive behavior that is when strict parenting must be done. Hopefully the child will grow up understanding and maybe even appreciate that the discipline they needed at that time was out of love and concern, not to make them feel inferior or demean them as a person.
Discipline is to build up, not tear down. Parental speaker, Ronit Baras, states that “About 80% of kids subjected to long periods of physical abuse develop a mental disorder: depression, panic attacks, paranoia or social isolation.” Constant mental and physical abuse by a parent means that when a child grows older they will act the same way towards others, including anyone weaker than them such as small animals or ones with disabilities.
One major sign of parental bullying is isolating one child among the rest. This was the case of 15-year-old Jeanette Maples, who died in the hands of her mother, Angela McAnulty. The teenager had endured years of torture and prolonged starvation. At times she would have to drink from the toilet or steal food, because Angela would shut off the water and lock up the cupboards and fridge every night. On the day of Jeanette’s death, paramedics found the girl’s frail, 50 lb. body lying on top of a small piece of cardboard on the floor. During the murder trial, Angela’s defense was that she grew up in an abusive home and so a “mental defect” caused her to repeat the cycle of abuse. But if that was the case, why did she only abuse Jeanette and not the other kids that lived in the home? One of the younger siblings testified that whenever they tried to help Jeanette it would only cause the abused teen to get even more beatings from Angela. The usual intimidation tactic from a bully is to encourage other family members to join in the verbal or physical attacking of their victim. “Adult bullies are aware of their behavior. Their tactics are detrimental not only to the victim, but also to bystanders, who may feel uneasy, [being] forced to pick sides or end up feeling unsafe,” states Janet Taylor, Ph.D. Though Angela McAnulty pleaded that she never intended to kill her daughter, Jeanette, the jury did not buy it and sentenced her to the death penalty in 2011.
Going back to the story of Jeanette Maples, when she was alive, she wrote in one of her notebooks about who her role model was. Jeanette wrote, “If I could be one person in this whole entire world, who would I choose? Well, it wouldn’t be no super hero, not any great champion, it would just be my mother…She’s the best.”
This reminds me a lot of women that always return to abusive relationships. This is known as the battered women’s syndrome. Kids face the same type of abuse with a bully parent and yet they praise their abuser and at times blame themselves for provoking their attacker. Just like with domestic violence the cycle of parental bullying has to be put to an end. Is there a solution to parental bullying? Yes. BullyingStatistics.orgsuggests that a child needs to talk with a parent about their bullying. They also suggest to “try and work out differences. If that doesn't work, it is a good idea to talk to some sort of authority at the school, or even with law enforcement. It is important that parent bullying be stopped, especially since it can be damaging to the long term psyche of the child.” Parents that are now aware of their bullying ways should then be willing to make a change. If they choose not to change, this could cause a wall of bitter resentment that a child will have against their parents as they grow up.
Another sign of parental bullying is emotional abuse. This type of abuse is more difficult to spot than other types of abuse. According to the Adults Surviving Child Abuse website, parents who bully children emotionally tend to show a negative attitude towards parenting and children. They usually perceive parenting as unrewarding and difficult, especially if the child doesn’t respond well to their parenting style or the child isn’t meeting the expectations of higher achievement they set out for them. As soon as a child displays challenging behavior or fails to meet their expectations, the parent tunes out by being emotional distant and labels the child as being the problem and so they stop showing sincere interest in their kid. These are the usually traits of a narcissistic parent states Psychologist Karyl McBride. “A narcissistic parent often appears to be mother or father of the year to the world, while behind closed doors at home, life is not so ideal. The narcissistic parent often does not parent with empathy and does not show unconditional love to children,” McBride adds.
By Bridget Campos, 2/2/2015