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Why Do Kids Bully?

There are common characteristics that generally describe youth who exhibit bullying behaviors. Youth who physically bully others are often described as aggressive, impulsive, tough, and confident. When these personality traits are coupled with a low tolerance for frustration and an inclination towards violence, bullying behavior often results (Seale, 2004). Research suggests that while some bullies have poor social skills, resulting in difficulties forming and maintaining positive relationships, others have advanced social skills that enable them to manipulate others (James, 2010).

Youth who exhibit bullying behavior often have similar personality traits, but also similar motivations behind their behavior. Most children exhibiting this behavior seek social status, affection, and acceptance (Veenstra et. al, 2010). This is especially true for youth involved in indirect or verbal bullying; jealousy of peers and a desire for power plays a significant role (Guerra et. al 2011).

There are also several social factors that can contribute to youth displaying bullying behavior. These factors include:

- Family Dynamics
Youth who experience or witness parents or siblings engaging in bullying behaviors such as physical violence, aggression, or verbal abuse are likely to also develop bullying behaviors.
- Peer Group factors
A child’s peer group can support, promote, or even pressure them into bullying. The friends a child spends time with can have a huge impact on the choices they make, including the decision to bully others.
- School Culture
Schools where bullying is tolerated become breeding grounds for future bullies. If youth see no repercussions to bullying, they are more likely to engage in it.
- Media
Some video games, films, and television programs portray violence and intimidation to others as normal, acceptable, and even humorous (Seale, 2004).

In particular, an extensive review conducted by Loeber and Hay (1997) found that several family factors, such as poor parental supervision, monitoring, erratic or harsh parental discipline, inconsistency between parents, parental disharmony, parental rejection and low parental involvement with the child were all related to conduct problems in youth.

There is no single cause for bullying behavior. However, with an understanding of some underlying characteristics and motivations, we can work towards helping youth deal with some of the issues they may be facing.


Guerra, N. G., Williams, K. R., & Sadek, S. (2011). Understanding bullying and victimization during childhood and adolescence: A mixed methods study. Child Development, 82(1), 295-310.

James, A. (2010). School bullying. NSPCC Inform Briefing on School Bullying, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Loeber, R. and Hay, D. (1997). Key issues in the development of aggression and violence from childhood to early adulthood. Annual Review of Psychology, 48, 371–410.

Seale, A. (2004). The 411 bullying. Hamilton Fish Institute.

Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Munniksma, A. and Dijkstra, J. K. (2010). The complex relation between bullying, victimization, acceptance, and rejection: Giving special attention to status, affection, and sex differences. Child Development, 81(2), 480–486.