What Are the Risk Factors for Becoming a Bully?

Learn to identify the most common factors that influence bullying

Side profile of school boys (10-12) bullying a classmate in the yard
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Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. As a result, there is no single cause of bullying. Instead, a host of factors place children at risk for bullying their peers. Sometimes temperament, size and self-esteem play a role. Other times, family background increases the likelihood of bullying. Still other times, kids resort to bullying because they are bullied themselves. Here is a list of the most common factors that influence bullying.

Family Risk Factors

  • Witnessing or experiencing abuse. Children from abusive homes are more likely to bully than other children because aggression, violence and manipulation are modeled for them.

  • Having permissive parents. When parents do not establish rules for their children or provide adequate supervision, their children often resort to bullying. What's more, permissive parents are less likely to institute consequences or attempt to stop the bullying.

  • Seeing or experiencing bullying by siblings. When an older brother or sister puts a younger sibling in a head lock or twists an arm behind the back, this creates a sense of powerlessness. It also is sibling bullying. To regain that feeling of power, these kids then bully others sometimes even emulating the older sibling.

Personality Risk Factors

  • Exhibiting low self-esteem. Kids with low self-esteem are prone to bullying because it gives them a sense of power and control, which is something they find lacking in their own life. They may also brag about their exploits and abilities in order to cover for a low sense of self-worth.

  • Showing little empathy. Children who have not learned to be empathetic may also resort to bullying. They are either unable or unwilling to understand how a person might feel when cruel things are said or done. They also blame the victim in some way. For example, a child might say, "he needs to learn to take a joke" instead of acknowledging the victim's pain.

  • Exhibiting a low tolerance for frustration. When a situation doesn't turn out as expected, this can cause frustration. For most children, they learn to adapt to the situation and the frustration subsides. But for some children, not getting what they want feels unbearable. As a result, they bully others to force the desired outcome.

Behavior Risk Factors

  • Acting with aggression. Aggressive children often have poor impulse control and a quick temper. Rather than using reasoning, they resort to coercion and dominance. They also may hit and kick instead of using words.

  • Using physical strength to intimidate. Children who use their size and their strength to get what they want often resort to bullying. They control situations by making other children feel weak or powerless.

  • Excluding other children. Every child wants to have close friends. But bully-prone children may try to isolate people. Not only do they refuse to let another person participate, but they encourage other kids to ignore the person as well. Mean girls are especially known for excluding others.

  • Getting harassed by others. Often children bully others because they too are being bullied. These children are referred to as bully victims and suffer from the same characteristics as a victim. But to compensate for their painful feelings, they often bully other children.

If you recognize some of these risk factors in your child, do not ignore the signs. Denial won't help your situation or your child. Remember, addressing bullying now can prevent serious problems later in life.

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