Parents `may back bullying'

Psychology/ hints in a survey
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A SIGNIFICANT proportion of "macho" parents may enourage bullying in their children, and thus counter school programmes designed to curb bullies, the British Psychological Society's annual meeting at Warwick University was told this weekend.

Answers by a small group of parents to researchers provide the first hints that some admire bullying behaviour. As a result, 3,000 parents are to be enrolled in an Economic and Social Science Research Council survey of attitudes to the school bully.

Mike Eslea, researcher in the psychology department at Sheffield University, was already involved in a study of children's attitudes to bullying when comments from headteachers made him think about parents.

"In interviews with the heads I was told that parents' attitudes could be a problem when schools were introducing programmes to stop bullying," he said. He was told that some parents encouraged their children to "hit back" if they were attacked. As a result he adapted his questionnaire for children and asked 29 parents to respond to questions as a pilot for a possible future study.

"On the whole, parents were sympathetic to what schools were trying to do, but clearly some were unsympathetic," he said.

Responses to two questions in particular alerted him. Asked what they thought about a statement, "I can't stand kids who keep running to the teacher", five of the 29 agreed. And asked to respond to "A bully is really a coward", seven did not agree.

"While most are pro-victim it suggests that some people do admire bullies," he said.

"Obviously this is a very small study but the numbers were large enough for us to want to find out more. Schools now are looking for more and more ways to involve the parents and if they are going to tackle bullying we need to know what they think about it."

There were no sex differences in the resposes between men and women in the study.