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Study Highlights Power of Family Resilience to Protect Children from Bullying

10/25/2019


Findings suggest that children whose families cope well with adversity are less likely to be bullied, or to bully others.

NEW ORLEANS – Studies show that children exposed to childhood trauma known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at increased risk of being bullied or bullying others. New research being presented at the American American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2019 National Conference & Exhibition suggests that family resilience--the ability to work together to overcome problems, for example—reduces this risk.

The research abstract, “Assessing the Effect of Family Resilience on Bullying in U.S. Children with Adverse Childhood,” will be presented on Sunday, Oct. 27, at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.

“Bullying is a widespread problem, especially among children experiencing other forms of trauma,” said the abstract’s presenting author and principal investigator Elizabeth Li, a researcher in the Department of Pediatrics at Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. “It can lead to mental health problems later on, affecting those who are bullied, those who do the bullying, and those witnessing it.”

For the study, the research team analyzed responses to the 2016-2017 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), which asks parents of U.S. children ages 6 to 17 about a child’s physical and mental health, access to quality health care, and the child’s family, neighborhood, school, and social context. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced “family resilience” to the NSCH as a composite measure based on caregiver responses to the question:

“When your family faces problems, how often are you likely to do each of the following?

  • talk together about what to do;

  • work together to solve our problems;

  • know we have strengths to draw on; and

  • stay hopeful even in difficult times.”

Children were classified as a bully if their parent responded “definitely” or “somewhat true” when asked if their child “bullies others, picks on them, or excludes them.” They were classified as a victim of

bullying if their parents responded “definitely” or “somewhat true” when asked if their child “is bullied, picked on, or excluded by other children.” Analysis controlled for age, sex, race/ethnicity, and family income.

The researchers found that family resilience had a significant association with a lower rate of bullying others in children with up to 3 ACEs. It also had a significant protective effect against being bullied in children with up to 2 ACEs.

The findings suggest that the way a family reacts and responds to traumatic events can have a significant impact on their child’s behavior and well-being going forward, said Andrew Adesman, MD, FAAP, the study’s senior investigator and chief of developmental & behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York.

“Parents should be aware of how they handle adversity and consider both the direct and indirect impact these events may have on their children,” Dr. Adesman said.

The abstract, available below, will be presented at 4:15 p.m. in the Jefferson Ballroom. To request an interview with an author of the abstract, journalists may contact AAP media relations or Ms. Li at eli5@northwell.edu.

In addition, Ms. Li and Dr. Adesman will be among highlighted abstract authors who will give brief presentations and be available for interviews during a press conference and luncheon on Sunday, Oct. 27, starting at noon in rooms 208-209 (Press Office) of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. During the meeting, you may reach AAP media relations staff in the National Conference Press Room at 504-670-5406.

Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org. Reporters can access the meeting program and other relevant meeting information through the AAP meeting website at http://www.aapexperience.org.

Abstract Title: Assessing the Effect of Family Resilience on Bullying in U.S. Children with Adverse Childhood Experiences

Elizabeth Li, BS, presenting author

Background: Bullying is a widespread problem that can take various forms. Bullying not only adversely affects self-esteem in childhood but can also lead to mental health problems during childhood and beyond. Studies have demonstrated that children with adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are at increased risk to be a

victim of bullying (VoB) and/or bully others. Although parenting style and home environment are important mediating factors with respect to bullying, it is unclear whether family resilience may mitigate the negative effects of ACEs. Purpose: Determine to what extent family resilience mitigates ACEs as a risk factor for bullying or being bullied by others. Methods: A secondary analysis was performed on responses to the 2016-2017 National Survey of Childrens Health (NSCH), a nationally representative survey of parents of US children, for children ages 6 to 17. In 2016, the CDC introduced family resilience to the NSCH as a composite measure based on caregiver responses to four questions: When your family faces problems, how often are you likely to do each of the following? (a) talk together about what to do; (b) work together to solve our problems; (c) know we have strengths to draw on; and (d) stay hopeful even in difficult times. The score ranged from 0 to 4 and reflected the number of questions to which parents responded most of the time or all of the time. Children were classified as a bully if their parent responded definitely or somewhat true when asked if their child bullies others, picks on them, or excludes them. Children were classified as a VoB if their parent responded definitely or somewhat true when asked if their child is bullied, picked on, or excluded by other children. For nested subsets with increasing number of ACEs, logistic regressions were used to test for associations between family resilience and either bullying others or being a VoB. These regressions controlled for age, sex, race/ethnicity, and family income. Associations between demographic variables and bullying were also evaluated using Chi-squared tests of independence. Results: Family resilience had a significant association with a lower rate of bullying others in children with up to 3 ACEs. Family resilience also had a significant protective effect against being bullied in children with up to 2 ACEs (Table 1). Significant associations between prevalence of bullying or being a VoB and various demographic variables were identified (Table 2). Conclusion: Though an increased prevalence of bullying is associated with certain demographics, these findings highlight the mitigating effect that family resilience (as measured on the NSCH) has on bullying in children with ACEs. Consequently, parents should remain cognizant of how they handle adversity and consider both the direct and indirect impact these events may have on young children.

Editor’s note: Table 1 figures in red represent updated analysis.

Table 1. Prevalence of Bullying in Subsets of Children Ages 6-17 Years Defined by Number of Adverse Childhood Experiences and Family Resilience 2016-17 NSCH (n=51156)

Number of ACEsN% Bullied Others  
  Non-Resilient  
No ACE276307.14  
1 or more ACE2283412.50  
2 or more ACE1114015.73  
3 or more ACE581718.99  
4 or more ACE317421.16  

aAdjusted for sex, age, race/ethnicity, and family income.

baOR for bullying others.

caOR for being bullied by others.