Why Some Kids Bully -- And How To Stop It

by Dorathy Gass
Originally Published: 
Two blonde girls wearing pink shirts looking at each other angrily, bullying each other

Hollywood tends to portray bullies as entitled little rich kids who are popular and fall prey on the beloved hero/heroine underdog in movies and television. They are good-looking, smug, and “always win” until the leading character evolves to become courageous enough to stand up to their nemesis.

I always thought school yard bullies were the same way too in real life, until I became a mom to school-aged children. Volunteering at my kids school and through my children’s extracurricular activities and other events, I’ve come to notice that bullies aren’t truly what is portrayed in the media. They aren’t always the most popular in the bunch; a lot of times they don’t come from well-established homes; and they aren’t always used to “winning.” They don’t necessarily lack discipline from their parents, moreover, research has indicated school yard bullies are often raised in homes of harsher discipline (shaming, yelling, threats, or swearing at), and therefore, these children are more likely to become a bully.

Yet, it seems as of late, the words “bully” and “bullying” get thrown around a lot, and while most of what we read on social media focuses on how to help victims cope with the effects of bullying (how to stand up against a bully, or how to overcome the scars bullying causes), there really is very little out there on what we as a society can do to help reform a child bully.

There was a recent incident that a neighbor had to deal with around a student getting terrorized by a fellow classmate. The kid was sent horrible and negative notes via social media and notes in her desk at school telling stating no one liked her, and that she should do everyone a favor and just kill herself.

The child being bullied was only 10 years old.

The child bully was the same age.

I was horrified, on so many levels. As I talked with my group of mom friends about the entire ordeal, we all couldn’t help but feel terrible for the victim and her parents. However, as I continued to digest the entire situation later that night before falling asleep, my mind wondered to the bully and what prompted her behavior. We are talking about a child who has crossed the line, proposing suicide on another kid: truly, what had happened to this 10-year-old to make her want to say such hurtful things to a peer? What had this “bully” been through in her mere decade of a life where she had so much pent up anger and aggression? Why on earth would she be so hurtful and mean, going to levels in her bullying that she had gone to?

In the end, once the bullying was revealed, the child who was bullied went to therapy; the child who was the bullied was suspended from school for a specific amount of time.

Now, I’m not implying that a bully shouldn’t suffer some sort of consequence for their actions; both my children have been bullied by peers before and as I’ve told my own children in the past, “hurt people, hurt people”. Having said that, while we as parents need to empower bullied victims, there also needs to be some sort of help offered to the bully, who is clearly hurting as well and lashing out on others.

Everyone these days wants to break the cycle of bullying, but are we willing to truly do what it takes to create a positive school environment? It’s not only important to help victims recover, teach bystanders to speak up, and drill in our kid’s heads to always go to an adult they can trust if they are being bullied; it’s also vital to understand why these school yard bullies, are doing what they do. If the reason behind their aggressive behavior isn’t addressed, how are they to truly reform?

Below are some common reasons behind why children turn into bullies:

1. Role Models

Statistics show that many bullies in the school yard are raised by parents who are adult bullies themselves. Moms and dads hold the largest amount of power as it relates to influencing the behaviors of their children. Our kiddos mimic us, pick up our best strengthens, and sometimes our worst habits. Your voice becomes your child’s inner voice, and some school yard bullies tend to exhibit aggressive and violent tendencies from parents or extended family members that are adult bullies themselves.

2. Parents Who Are Uninvolved

Kids who bully might not be getting the love, attention, and support they need from parents or guardians at home. Sure, there also may be a lack of rules and discipline because parents are distracted with other things; however, ultimately, a child may bully because there simply is not enough parent involvement after school.

3. Peer Pressure

Good kids fall into the wrong groups at times, and become bullies simply because their friend is doing it too. They may know it is not right, they may not want to do it, but what will happen if they don’t? They risk getting bullied themselves.

4. Bullied Before

Speaking of, some kids learn first-hand about bullying, because they’ve been bullied by peers in the past. Building a wall of self-defense, they turn into the aggressor to ensure they don’t end up on the wrong side of the schoolyard food chain.

5. Need For Power

When unforeseeable circumstances crumble around a child’s home life (i.e. parents separate, moving schools, family conflict, an alcohol or drug problem with a parent, unknown abuse, or death in the family, etc.), a child can feel powerless to their situation. Bullying helps them feel like they have control over something or someone; like they have gained a sense of power over one element in their lives.

One important thing to note is that child bullies are still just that — children. And let’s face it, kids learn lessons by making mistakes as they navigate their way into this world to find where they fit. While we as a society need to help build up victims, a little empathy and understanding as to why kids bully could go a long way as well. Pinpointing the reasons behind why a child has chosen to use bullying while socializing at school can offer an indicator to truly help reform them, which will ultimately help to break the cycle of bullying once and for all.

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