Skip to content

Health & Parenting

Why Bullies Bully

What you need to know about bullying, bullies, and how to stop the cycle of bullying.
Font Size
A
A
A

Building a Bully

Bullies seek power at someone else's expense. They harm that person over and over -- emotionally and/or physically -- to get it.

"It involves a more powerful person and a less powerful person, and is a form of aggression where one or more children repeatedly intimidate, harass, or harm a victim who cannot defend himself," says Robert Sege, MD, chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and a contributor to the American Academy of Pediatrics' updated policy on bullying.

Bullies are shaped, in part, by these factors:

  • Uncontrolled anger. "The No. 1 predictor of bullying behavior is anger, particularly in kids who have no way to manage it," says Dorothy Espelage, PhD, a professor and university scholar in the educational psychology department of the University of Illinois at Champaign. Angry kids, she says, are more likely to show bullying characteristics -- even if they have high self-esteem, and even toward their own siblings at home, which is often where bullying begins.
  • No consequences. If adults don't nip bullying behavior in the bud, it may worsen. "A lack of adult response early on in the bullying behavior emboldens bullies," says Peter Raffalli, MD, a child neurologist at Children's Hospital in Boston. "It fuels the bullies by basically saying to them that it's OK because the adults don't care, and aren't interjecting to put a stop to it." 
  • Home life. Domestic violence, emotional and/or physical abuse, anger, and hostility at home -- directed at them or someone else -- can help build a bully.        
  • Media and video games. Seeing bullying behavior in the media and video games can be a bad influence if it shows that behavior being rewarded.

Other factors include "low impulse control, a low frustration tolerance, a need to control or dominate, anger issues, an opposition toward authority, and aggressiveness, " Raffalli says.

No single factor guarantees that a child will turn to bullying. Any of many potential troubling traits can tip a young person over the edge.

Bystanders in Bullying

It's not unusual for kids to join in bullying. Some groups thrive on it.

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
 
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
 
mother and daughter talking
Tool
child brushing his teeth
Slideshow
 
Sipping hot tea
Slideshow
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
Article
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
 
tissue box
Quiz
Child with adhd
Slideshow