Kids bully because their mothers… Uh… wait…

I spotted this interesting article the other day: Kids who think Dad works too much more likely to bully. Research by Vanderbilt University sociologist Andre Christie-Mizell showed some interesting correlations:

Our behavior is driven by our perception of our world, so if children feel they are not getting enough time and attention from parents then those feelings have to go somewhere and it appears in interaction with their peers,” said Christie-Mizell, an associate professor of sociology and licensed psychologist specializing in family therapy and the treatment of children with mood and behavior disorders.

His study, published in the journal Youth & Society, looked at two questions – “What is the relationship between the number of hours parents work and adolescent bullying behavior?” and “What is the relationship between bullying behavior and youth’s perceptions of the amount of time their parents spend with them?”

What Christie-Mizell found is that it was children’s perception of how much time they spent with their fathers that had the most impact on bullying behavior.

This is good that we’re starting to get a better handle on factors associated with bullying, if we’re to get at all serious about eliminating it and handling it appropriately in our schools. But what got me annoyed was this part:

Christie-Mizell began the research thinking that mothers’ work hours – since mothers overwhelmingly are the ones to care for and monitor children – would be more likely to have an impact on whether children exhibited bullying behavior such as being cruel to others, being disobedient at school, hanging around kids who get in trouble, having a very strong temper and not being sorry for misbehaving. However, it was when fathers worked full time or overtime and children perceived that they did not spend enough time with their fathers that bullying behavior increased.

I’m very glad in this case that Christie-Mizell didn’t try to force his results in to the initial picture he had. All too often, researchers who delve into a subject with preconceived notions will tend to find or pay attention to the data that supports their notions (which is not at all how scientific methodology is supposed to, but that would be a digression, however fond of those I normally am). And that sort of assumption tends to color a lot of research — particularly into those sort of “men versus women” subjects — and result in us not really learning anything at all, or worse yet having our stereotypes reinforced.

In any case I hope we can make good use of this additional information.

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