Parents’ Responses to Relational Bullying in New Zealand
Relational bullying is a significant and widespread issue that is experienced by many young people in New Zealand. To implement effective and consistent prevention and intervention strategies, it is crucial to understand the perspectives of everyone involved. However, there is currently limited research on parents’ perspectives of relational bullying. While research in the field of bullying prevention is increasingly focused on the perspectives and responsibility of multiple parties, a significant gap in the literature remains: the perspectives of the parents of children who are involved as perpetrators of bullying, as well as those parents of children who are both bullies as well as victims. The present doctoral research yielded findings describing parents’ responses to their child’s involvement in relational bullying, including those involved in bullying perpetration. This project was comprised of three studies focussing specifically on relational bullying. The first study examined parents’ responses to hypothetical scenarios depicting their child perpetrating or experiencing exclusion, rumour spreading, and manipulation. The second study asked parent participants to reflect on any actual experience they had with supporting their child as a victim or perpetrator of relational bullying. In the third study, participants reflected on their own experiences with relational bullying during their childhood or adolescence, considering the continued impact on their current lives and on their parenting. Data collection was via one anonymous, online survey. These qualitative responses were analysed thematically to produce both individual study findings and overarching themes that reflected the participants’ perspectives. The responses revealed that parents respond to the three distinct forms of relational bullying (exclusion, rumour spreading, and manipulation) in different ways, with some forms of relational bullying viewed as less serious than others. In addition, the findings provide insight into how parents supported their child when they were involved in relational bullying perpetration. Parents responding to their child’s involvement in the perpetration of relational bullying often took action, assisted their child to make amends, and continued to monitor their child’s progress. When parent participants considered their own experiences of relational bullying, they identified being deeply impacted by the bullying at the time it happened, and they explained that it continued to have an ongoing impact on their current lives and on their parenting behaviour with their own children. The findings from the project overall illustrate the need for a cultural shift in the attitudes towards bullying that permeate the New Zealand context.