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Sticks and Stones

Volume III

Why Do Some Children and Adolescents Become Bullies?

Most bullying behavior develops in response to multiple factors in the environment—at home, school and within the peer group. There is no one cause of bullying. Common contributing factors include:

  • Family factors: The frequency and severity of bullying is related to the amount of adult supervision that children receive—bullying behavior is reinforced when it has no or inconsistent consequences. Additionally, children who observe parents and siblings exhibiting bullying behavior, or who are themselves victims, are likely to develop bullying behaviors. When children receive negative messages or physical punishment at home, they tend to develop negative self concepts and expectations, and may therefore attack before they are attacked—bullying others gives them a sense of power and importance.
  • School factors: Because school personnel often ignore bullying, children can be reinforced for intimidating others. Bullying also thrives in an environment where students are more likely to receive negative feedback and negative attention than in a positive school climate that fosters respect and sets high standards for interpersonal behavior.
  • Peer group factors: Children may interact in a school or neighborhood peer group that advocates, supports, or promotes bullying behavior. Some children may bully peers in an effort to “fit in,” even though they may be uncomfortable with the behavior.

Why Do Some Children and Adolescents Become Victims?


Victims signal to others that they are insecure, primarily passive and will not retaliate if they are attacked.  Consequently, bullies often target children who complain, appear physically or emotionally weak and seek attention from peers. 


Studies show that victims have a higher prevalence of overprotective parents or school personnel; as a result, they often fail to develop their own coping skills.




Many victims long for approval; even after being rejected, some continue to make ineffective attempts to interact with the victimizer.


Andrea Cohn & Andrea Canter, Ph.D., NCSP

Try reflecting on the factors that have shaped your child's behavior.  Think of ways to change those factors that have led to undesireable behavior. 

With every bullying situation, there are only four roles in which individuals can play a part:

  1. The Bully – the person doing the aggressive behavior.  Bullies are not bad people, rather their choices to use harmful and mean behaviors is bad. 
  2. The Victim – the person who is being bullied. 
  3. The Bystander – the person standing by seeing the problem.  These people have the power to make a positive difference in the situation.  However, if bystanders laugh, tell their friends to look, or simply watch and do no action, they are passively supporting the bully. 
  4. The Ally – the person who helps the victim by intervening in some way. 


Everyone at school plays one of these roles.  Middle school students can easily move in and out of these roles. 


Boys will be boys.  Bullies are looking for attention.  Ignore them and they will stop.  Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.

Many of us have heard these phrases before.  For many years, what we have heard about bullying have been myths.  Olweus has exposed these myths about bullying and shares what the research says.  Click on the link for more de-myth-tifying information


Try having a discussion with your son or daughter about the role they play in the bullying situation and what myths they have about bullying.

Volume I

Bullying is a common and unfortunate occurrence that is typically at its peak in the middle school years.  It can have devastating emotional effects that disrupt student performance in school and their home life.  The first step to making a difference is to clearly understand what bullying is and being aware of the types of bullying that occurs today. 


What is bullying? 

“A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”  (Hazelden Foundation, 2010) 


The definition involves three important parts

  1. An aggressive or passive aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions. 
  2. It involves a pattern of behavior, repeated over time. 
  3. It involves an imbalance of power or strength. 

(Hazelden Foundation, 2010)


The types of bullying

  1. Verbal bullying including name calling and hurtful comments
  2. Social exclusion or isolation
  3. Physical bullying such as hitting, kicking, shoving and spitting
  4. Bullying through lies and gossip
  5. Having money or other property taken or damaged
  6. Being threatened or forced to do things
  7. Racial bullying
  8. Sexual bullying
  9. Cyber bullying (internet, cell phone, electronics)

(Hazelden Foundation, 2010)



There is a difference between teasing and bullying.  If your child is receiving unwanted negative actions that are not happening regularly, show no pattern over time, and comes from someone who has equal power in the relationship, they are most likely being teased.  It is important to note that friends often use gentle teasing as a form of humor and affection. 


Try having a discussion with your son or daughter about the difference between teasing and bullying, and personal experience with the two.  



Matthew Giles

School Psychologist