Adopted Kids: More Likely to Bully or be Bullied?

Dawn Davenport


Adopted Kids: More Likely to be Bullied?

The International Adoption Project is studying whether international adopted kids are likely to bully others.

I love the International Adoption Project at the University of Minnesota. They’ve been conducting longitudinal research on the issues that adoptive families really care about since 1999, and their findings are often applicable not only to internationally adopted kids, but also to those adopted from foster care and often to those adopted domestically as infants. And the icing on the cake for me is that they publish their ongoing results in a readily accessible newsletter rather than just in academic journals that are only available to subscribers for a hefty fee. One of my pet peeves is that research findings are so darn hard to disseminate to the folks who really need the knowledge—adoptive parents and professionals. (One of the things on my perpetual to-do list is to find a grant source to help Creating a Family spread research findings to our extensive network of families and professionals. If you have suggestions, let me know PLEASE.)

Peer Relations for Adopted Children

One issue the International Adoption Project is researching right now is peer relations for international adopted children. All parents know how important peers are in the emotional development of children. Some kids with rough starts in life struggle in finding and keeping friends. There has been little research to help parents understand the basics of how adoption might affect friendships and whether their children are more likely to be the bully or the bullied.

Specifically the University of Minnesota researchers are paying attention to two types of bullying:

  • Overt aggression, such as hitting, pushing and name calling ,and
  • Relational aggression, such as threatening to exclude a child from the group, making up nasty stories about a child or in other ways ruining their relationships. (The classic “you’re not invited to my birthday party” type of meanness.)

Researchers studied 575 children between the ages of 9- to 14-years from 24 different countries, who were adopted between 1.5 and 86 months of age (approximately 7 years), and had been in their families for at least six years. They were specifically looking at whether age at adoption and time spent in an institution would be related to peer bullying and victimization.

When they just looked at the adopted kids within the study they found that the children who had spent longer periods in institutional care were more likely to engage in overt aggression, but not more relational aggression. The researchers think that relational aggression may require a more sophisticated understanding of relationships that might elude children with greater histories of deprivation prior to adoption, so it is not surprising that these kids would not be as effective at this type of bullying. I suppose this is not considered a major surprise and might even fit the stereotype of kids raised in orphanages as being aggressive. However, when researchers compared this group of adopted children to a matched group of non-adopted kids, they found that the adopted children were not more aggressive. Thus, they concluded that being a bully does not seem to be a big risk for children with a history of institutional care.

Sadly, however, they found that internationally adopted kids with a history of institutional care were more often the victim of bullies for both overt aggression and relation victimization. Interestingly, this was the case despite reports that their children were no less positive in their social behavior towards peers. Not surprisingly, the children who were being bullied suffered from more anxiety and depression.

Doesn’t this just break your heart?!? I can’t say the results really surprise me. I’m not sure what the researchers meant when they said that the adopted children were equally “positive in their social behavior towards peers”. Sometimes children who spend much time in institutions are awkward in their relationships. I would think this would contribute to being picked on. Being slightly different may make you a great interesting adult, but often sets you up for torment in childhood. Sigh!

What has been your experience with your kids? Have they been bullied? Have they bullied other kids?


Image credit: Adib Roy

17/07/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Adopted Kids: More Likely to Bully or be Bullied?

  1. Pingback: IS ADOPTION A REASON TO BULLY? – Dense Walnut News

  2. Avatar Adoptee says:

    Maybe adoption isn’t the greatest thing in the world? You think? One problem after another and we suffer. Either push for abortion or keep natural families together.

  3. Avatar Jennifer says:

    This is very interesting Dawn. I have noticed that my daughter is occasionally the victim of either bullying or exclusion from groups. She also seems to struggle making friends. It does break my heart. She was adopted internationally around age 2 (institutional care). So this does seem to fit their findings.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Jennifer, do you see reasons why she is being bullied? Is she socially awkward? Is she overly sensitive? Yes, as a parent I don’t think I’ve ever felt more helpless than when my child was bullied.

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