Why Do Kids Bully at School?

Bullying is a complex issue; those engaging in bullying have individual reasons for doing so. However, some factors that drive children to bullying are common throughout schools. As bullying can lead to severe problems in adulthood, for both the bully and the victim, parents should know why bullying situations start.

Desire for Control

When most parents think about bullying, an image of physical violence usually comes to mind. While bullying is not exclusively physical, the physical bullying example clearly demonstrates one of the primary reasons for bullying -- a desire for control. Children who lack control in their lives, especially in their family lives, find a way to gain control in other ways. For bigger kids, physically harassing smaller kids is an easy way to achieve control. As most bullying relies on a power discrepancy -- a bigger kid picking on a smaller kid or a popular kid picking on an unpopular kid -- much of it is aimed at achieving a sense of power over others.

Desire for Attention

Bullying has its rewards, one of which is attention. Parents might be surprised to find that the negative attention that follows bullying is a reward in the bully’s eyes. Many bullies act out due to being deprived of attention. In this case, even negative attention is desirable; the alternative is typically no attention, which is worse. Edward Dragan, bully scholar, states in his book, “The Bully Action Guide,” that “One factor that contributes to bullying is having parents who rarely show warmth, leading to the child to seek appreciation from peers.” 1

As a Social Weapon

Especially in older children, bullying becomes increasingly more strategic. Teenage bullies, for example, will gossip and spread rumors about their enemies. A popular girl, upon finding out that a female peer has a crush on her boyfriend, might begin spreading nasty rumors about that peer, hoping that this will socially isolate a romantic competitor. Such bullying is a way for children to retain their social situation or status at the cost of the social status of a peer.

Peer Pressure

In some cases, a school bully didn’t start out as a bully. Some non-bullies engage in bullying behavior because of the influence of their friends. Children who want to fit in or be part of the “in-group” will often mimic the group’s leader. If that leader happens to be a bully, it is normal for children to assume that bullying behavior is acceptable and even “cool.” In this situation, the problem is primarily the social environment, not the child himself.