What Motivates a Teenager to Become a Bully?

Bullies are often kids with self-esteem problems.

Approximately 160,000 school absences in the United States every day are bully-related, while 70 percent of high school students say they've been bullied, according to 2011 information provided by the Boston Children’s Hospital website. The numbers don’t lie; bullying is an epidemic that needs to come to a halt. However, to help stop the bullying, we need to know what motivates teens to treat others with such a lack of respect and common decency.

Family Relations

One of the most common causes of bullying behavior is family life, according to James Lehman, M.S.W., child behavior therapist, writing for the Empowering Parents website. Bullies often learn bullying behavior at home. When family members use bullying tactics in the home, teens are more likely to use the same tactics throughout their lives. Growing up, parents and other close family members are a child’s primary examples of what appropriate behavior looks like. This means that if your family treats bullying as acceptable behavior, your child will probably do the same.

Behavioral Disorders

Children and teens who suffer from behavior disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, have a difficult time controlling their impulses and emotions, which makes them more likely to become bullies. Teens in this spectrum tend to act before they think, which often means they have little regard for the appropriate treatment of others. Additionally, if their parents are too permissive and allow their defiant behavior to occur because they consider it part of their disorders, these teens are even more likely to bully others.

Lack of Social Skills

Some teens bully simply because they don’t have the social skills to treat other kids with respect. For example, a teen who never learned how to appropriately problem solve different life issues might resort to bullying others to get his way rather than taking a step back to think about how to approach the situation correctly. He might turn to aggression and abuse of others to make up for his own lack of adequate social skills.


Bullies are more often than not the more popular students in high school, according to the Boston Children’s Hospital website. They often feel a desire to dominate over the other kids in their schools. Some bullies just like the attention they get when they bully. For example, they might like it when bullying someone makes other students laugh, or they might find it amusing that their peers are too afraid to stand up for themselves. Bullies often suffer from self-esteem and confidence issues -- and bullying makes them feel better about themselves.