The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

The Fatherless Victims of Bullying

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Few problems have captured the attention of school officials in recent years more than that of bullying, including on-line cyberbullying. To combat this problem, these officials typically develop school-based solutions. But the findings of a recent British study suggest that the measures most likely to truly protect young people from this problem may include those that foster lasting parental marriages.

Affiliated with a number of institutions—including Cardiff University, King’s College London, and the University of Auckland—the authors of the new study express concern about “bullying and cyberbullying [as] common phenomena in schools” that may “have a significant impact on the health and particularly the mental health of those involved.” Enumerating bullying’s harmful effects, the researchers cite previous studies implicating bullying as a cause of “anxiety problems, depression and self-harm, antisocial behaviour, and suicide or attempted suicide, as well as substance misuse and poor educational outcomes.”

To identify the school and family circumstances most likely to expose adolescents to bullying, particularly cyberbullying, the researchers scrutinize data from 6,667 seventh-grade students enrolled in 40 English schools.  

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that students attending schools rated “outstanding” were less likely to experience bullying than those attending schools rated merely “good.” Also predictable is the finding that students who came from economically deprived families were particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying.

But economic status is not the only family characteristic significantly affecting whether adolescents will be subjected to bullying.  Independently of deprivation,” the researchers remark, “young people from a single-parent household were more likely to be bullied and cyberbullied compared to those coming from a two-parent household” (emphasis added).

Statistical analysis established that, compared to peers from intact families, adolescents from single-parent families are more likely to experience “significant bullying” of any sort (p = 0.009) and cyberbullying in particular (p = 0.03).  

Adolescents from single-parent families face an especially elevated risk of cyberbullying, a risk almost half again that found among peers from intact families (Odds Ratio of 1.44).  

In their concluding remarks, the authors of the new study express the hope that their findings will “pave the way for future research investigating which school factors and processes promote or prevent bullying and inform development of interventions to prevent bullying and cyberbullying in schools.”  

Given the character of their findings, it is deeply unfortunate that these researchers have nothing at all to say about measures that will foster the enduring parental marriages that will shield teens from bullying and all its ill effects.

(Leonardo Bevilacqua et al., “The Role of Family and School-Level Factors in Bullying and Cyberbullying: A Cross-Sectional Study,” BMC Pediatrics 17 [2017]: 160, Web.)