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Why Do Children Bully?

Updated on April 20, 2015

What is a Bully

I've been asked to do an inservice for girls and their parents on bullying and friendship, so I've started thinking about the topic a lot lately. This has become quite a big problem in schools and extra curricular activities today, with cyber bullying being a particularly big problem given the rise of children and teens having access to smart phones, IPODs, and other ways of accessing the internet.

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of a bully is a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people. According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is commonly characterized as aggressive behavior that: (1) is intended to cause distress or harm, (2) involves an imbalance of power between the aggressor and the victim, and (3) commonly occurs repeatedly over time.

A bully may engage in one or more of five types of bullying:

  • Physical--hitting, kicking, shoving, pushing, hair pulling, etc
  • Verbal----name calling, teasing, threating, hate talk
  • Emotional/Relational--leaving a person out, rumors, gossip, forcing behaviors
  • Sexual----unwanted hugs, sexual jokes, unwanted sexual behaviors
  • Cyber bullying---using internet, texting, etc to harrass, taunt, tease, spread rumors


What Causes a Person to Bully

It is reported that there is no one single cause of bullying. There are many factors that may be at play. These factors that can include the following:

  1. Temperament--a child with a volatile temper who is impulsive may be more inclined to bully.
  2. Jealousy--a child may perceive that another child is successful and they are not. Success may be in the area of grades, popularity, wealth, or a number of other places.
  3. Fear--a child may project insecurities or fears onto the other child. They may fear losing status or fear having their weaknesses exposed.
  4. Seeing themselves as superior over others--the bully may see others as insignificant or undeserving of their respect.
  5. Desire for attention--sometimes because of abuse and neglect by their own family members, bullies will crave attention and act out on others without understanding how their behaviors impact the other person. Other children simply lack sensitivity and believe they deserve the attention to the detriment of others.
  6. Prejudice--bullies are created within environments where children are raised to believe that there is only one right way to be and it is "bad" to be different.
  7. Mimicking a culture of media violence--self explanatory.
  8. Revenge--bullies who were victims themselves may become bullies. They overcompensate by attempting to overpower others.
  9. Social influence---aka "peer pressure". Children and teens have a strong desire to fit in.

An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong trailer

An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong

Some True Bullying Stories

Megan Meier

Megan Meier was a typical 13 year old who loved fishing, boating, swimming, dogs, rap music, and boys. She had friends and attended school. She battled ADHD and dealt with depression and was on the heavy side, but was doing well at the time this tragic story takes place. She had an on again off again friendship with a girl in her neighborhood, and at this beginning of her 8th grade school year, where she was on the volleyball team, she decided to discontinue her friendship with this girl. She met a boy on the internet who indicated that he was 16 and he presented as a very nice, good looking, homeschooled boy who wanted to be friends with her on line. She begged her mother to allow her to talk with him and her mother reluctantly agreed with strict guidelines. Megan talked with this boy back and forth for a short while, until one day she received a strange email saying this boy didn't want to be friends with her because she wasn't nice to her friends. She was confused and devastated because this boy was not supposed to even reside in her town or know her friends. As she continued to read posts, she saw horrible things being written about her by others such as, "Megan Meier is a slut", and "Megan Meier is fat". She began to cry hysterically, felt her parents were not being supportive (though her mother had tried to get her to shut down the internet and her father tried to calm her), and closed herself in her room. She did not come down for dinner and when her mother went to look for her, she found that her daughter had hung herself in her closet. It was later learned that the "boy" she thought she was talking with online was actually the MOTHER of the girl down the street, and one or two other people; No charges were filed as it was stated that there was not a charge to fit the crime.

(Information taken from the Megan Meier Foundation website)

Rebecca Golden

Rebecca was a young girl who struggled with her weight. This is not easy in a society where thin equates to popularity. Writing about her life, Rebecca indicated that she was first punched by a coach's son when she was 5 years old. It only got worse from there. She went to Catholic school and wore the typical Catholic uniform. An older boy called her "fat pig", "fat girl", and "fat thing", and threw a playground ball at her, hitting her in the stomach. She transferred to public school and indicated that she had no friends. In one sad statement she says, "I never really knew who I hated more — the ones who hated me, or the ones who liked me, but only in private". In 6th grade, a teacher even joined the teasing. This teacher took a book from her and threw it across the room, called her "butterball", and pointed out a menstual stain for the class to see. As a 12 year old girl, she contemplated suicide. These things continued through middle and high school with boys poking her, drawing mean and even sexually explicit pictures of her. She was called stupid by teachers. Every day was a struggle for survival. Rebecca did survive. She is now a writer, has friends, travels, and can handle bullies!

(Information taken from article written by Rebecca Golden on the following website): http://www.salon.com/2010/12/07/fat_girl_history_of_bullying/

What Can We Do?

It is important to be able to identify children or teens who are being bullied. Signs of victims include:

  • Abrupt lack of interest in school or lack of interest in going to school
  • Takes an unusual route to school
  • Drop in grades
  • Has few or no friends
  • Withdraws from family or school activities
  • Is sad, sullen, or angry after receiving a phone call
  • Stops talking about peers or everyday activities
  • Talks negatively about peers
  • Has disheveled, torn, or missing clothing
  • Has physical injuries
  • Has stomach aches, headaches, or panic attacks
  • Is unable to sleep or sleeps too much
  • Comments about feeling hopeless or disengaged from life
  • Alludes to death as a form of feeling better
  • Changes in mood, becomes angry or withdrawn

Children who are being bullied need parents who will LISTEN and not say, "just ignore them and they will stop". They may not stop or the child may not be able to handle one more day of the attacks. Children and teens need to be able to have open communication with their parents, and parents need to hear what their children are saying. Help the child problem solve. What will help in this child's particular situation. Can the child talk with an adult, does the parent need to intervene, or is the situation dire enough that counseling is necessary for the victim. The victim will need to create or be helped to create safety in thieir environment. This will be different for each child but may include parents driving the child to school instead of the child riding the bus, better monitoring by the teacher, after school activities that can build self esteem while providing a safe place for the child, and the ability to talk with the parents at any time necessary.

As for the bully, it will be very difficult for a parent to accept that their child could participate in this type of behavior, but to change the behavior and avoid trouble in the future, parents must be able to intervene. The child engaged in this behavior must be clearly informed that the behavior is unacceptible and understand the specific behavior that is being targeted. The bully must understand that the responsibility is his/hers. He or she has no right to treat another person with such disrespect. The bully must then be given specific consequences that includes an apology or restitution to the victim. It is important that this child be able to maintain dignity, however, as would be the case with any discipline. You would not want to verbally abuse this child in the same way he has abused his victim. Schools and organized activities should have a Zero Tolerance policy for bullying. Every child has a right to enjoy their childhood.

As for prevention, we as parents need to teach our children to accept others regardless of their differences. This does not mean we have to agree with everything they believe in, but disagreement does not give a person the right to attack another person. We should teach our children to do for others when possible. Do they mock the elderly man with the can because he can't lift his groceries, or do they help him to his car? We need to provide clear guidance and discipline for our children. Set rules and provide consequences for breaking the rules. Finally, we should encourage our children to be open with us and express their feelings. Children think and feel like we as adults do, and they need to be able to process what they are going through.

I will end with this. Rachel Joy Scott was a young girl who attended Columbine High School and was one of the first students killed by the two young shooters who had been bullied at the school. Just before her death, she wrote this in her diary:

"I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go"

(Information taken from the Rachel's Challenge website: http://www.rachelschallenge.org/


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      Rick Boling 5 years ago

      Great article, Wendy. Being the smallest kid in class, I, myself, was bullied in grade school and Jr. High, along with several of my friends (we small folk tended to stick together). In thinking back and trying to figure out some modes of causation for such behavior, what immediately came to mind were the parents of these bullies. I remember vividly a couple of instances where parents of the bullies were present while the bullying went on, and not only did nothing to stop it, but were supportive of their bullying child, actually encouraging the bad behavior. I also remember my own children being bullied by neighbors and schoolmates, and that when I approached the parents of the bullies, it became obvious that the bullying behavior had originated in the home.

      I do understand that, as you say, it might be difficult for many parents to accept that their child could participate in this type of behavior. However, I also believe that, in many cases, bullying behavior can be attributed to the parents themselves. The fact is that in previous generations, bullying was considered “normal” behavior for young kids (note the bullying scene in the 1940s’ period film, A Christmas Story), so a small segment of today’s parents grew up feeling entitled to engage in it. Unfortunately, they also passed this attitude along to their children, some even encouraging their kids to bully others. Consequently, we are still raising a generation of children in which some parents accept bullying as “part of growing up,” and are reluctant to acknowledge it as aberrant behavior. And today, with the Internet and social media, there are almost unlimited avenues through which kids can harass, belittle, threaten, and embarrass others, often without ever being caught—or, if they are caught, being disciplined.

      Thankfully, bullying is slowly being pulled from the social closet and exposed by the media, and your article is an excellent example of this. So we can at least hope that the next generation will fare better. It’s just sad that it takes tragedies like these and other well-publicized suicides to move public attitude in the right direction.

    • TripleAMom profile image
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      TripleAMom 5 years ago from Florida

      teacher--so agreed. My heart goes out to children who have to deal with not only school issues but peer issues as well. You are so right that parents need to begin at home to teach. Thanks for reading and commenting. Can always count on you :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      The true stories are so much a reflection of today's world for many children. Rebecca's story is especially touching to me as I see children having to suffer for this reason. Respect begins in the home, unfortunately parent's today are ignorant of this, thus we have the problem to deal with in school.

    • TripleAMom profile image
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      TripleAMom 5 years ago from Florida

      Mhatter99, thanks for sharing. The growing up years are so hard on everyone. My strong desire is for parents to help their children through them both with emotional support and consequences when necessary and not stand idly by. I love the quote at the end of this article about one person showing kindness can be passed.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Shamefully... I was one. I was a mental bully. I did it for attention and other's encouragement. My pranks ranged from dreams come true to nightmares. but they were all mental bullying.

    • TripleAMom profile image
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      TripleAMom 5 years ago from Florida

      Thanks billybuc. It is a never ending problem. Kids think they have to have control over other kids to be popular. I've seen it way too much.

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      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      How much bullying did I see in eighteen years of teaching? How much did I see as a child? It is a never-ending problem with no easy solution.....in your list of reasons for bullying....I have often believed that environment in the family has a lot to do with bullying, that kids aren't born to bully but that it is a learned behavior.

      Great hub!