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Bullying in Step-Families – Some Thoughts And Observations

bullying sibling, bullying step family
Hello, readers.  Looks like bullying is making news more and more the last few years.  In many cases, the news is bad – suicide, reports of relentless taunting, and more.  The only possible upside to this is improved awareness of the issue.  More to come on this.  For now, I have a previous issue to revisit.

A few months ago, one of my readers asked about bullying in step-families.  I attempted to search the internet about news articles, blogs, or just something about the issue to help me out.  For whatever reason, perhaps just not enough different search attempts, I didn’t come up with much at the time.  I was frustrated, but I knew I needed to come back to it with a fresh mind and try again.

I did just that a few minutes ago.  Wow – I must have hit the right keywords because I found some pretty interesting search results.

-Eight website or blog pages referencing a question or story about bullying from one step-sibling to another
-A recap of an MTV show episode about a “pretty boy” that bullies his step-brother
-A book about bullies and bullying in general
-One story about how a much older step-brother who stood up to the bullies harassing his kid step-brother.

Mostly people asking questions – the bullying targets, parents, other family members.  Only one result produced an authoritative resource for someone to follow.  I’m not saying the answers on the websites would have been off-track, I’m just saying I thought I might see a few more websites with strategies, a unified message, someone leading the way.  Someone saying, “Bullying can happen in all families, even step-families – here are ways to prevent it and stop it.”

Makes me think back to the news.  Most of the news we hear about bullying is in the school setting.  This absolutely needs to be addressed, no doubt.  However, I wonder if many people generally accept some level of bullying as a part of regular family life.  What some people get away with in their own homes may not be tolerated if their child was reporting the problem as coming from school.

I know that family bullying is more difficult to deal with because the situations often occur in private homes.  Physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse – it’s all bullying. All of it. It’s hard to talk about because it’s filled with shame.  But the lack of leadership (as I’ll call it) somewhat reflects the relative lack of focus on what I believe is the bigger issue.

Bullying attitudes and actions often originate, or are allowed to develop, in the family.  In many cases, a step-family has more opportunities for tension and competition between siblings for attention and acceptance.  This certainly isn’t the case in all step-families, but the risk does exist because some sort of loss, pain, or displacement frequently comes with the deal.  A family member who doesn’t handle this well may turn to bullying to feel some sense of control or power.

Just focusing on school bullying gets you about two or three steps past a more impactful starting point.  However, this point is also a far less accessible.  It starts with community, with relationships, with people who aren’t going to endorse or tolerate intentionally hurtful
acts from one person to the next.

Every family needs to be watchful of potential bullying under their roof – 100% biological, adoptive, foster, half-siblings, whatever.  And though I don’t have the benefit of research or statistics right now, I’d say many step-families ought to especially keep an eye out for it.

I don’t have a total answer here – this issue is bigger than just me.  I want to know what you think, readers.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Cayusa

Bullying in Step-Families – Some Thoughts And Observations

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2011). Bullying in Step-Families – Some Thoughts And Observations. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Nov 2011
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