Who are the bullies?

There are many myths about bullies. For one, they don’t appear spontaneously. Individual, family, and school factors all combine to produce them.

Another myth is that they are loners. In fact, most bullies are not socially isolated and report having an easier time making friends than non-bullies. Their social network is often their key source of power over others. They usually have at least a small group of friends who support their bullying.

Still another myth is that they lack confidence. In fact, most research shows bullies have average or above-average self-esteem. Interventions that seek to boost bullies’ self-respect have little effect and could even make their bullying worse.

In Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, Dr. Dan Olweus, a pioneer in the field, identified the following characteristics typical of bullies:

  • They have a strong need to dominate and subdue others to get their way.
  • They are impulsive and easily angered.
  • They are often defiant and aggressive toward adults, including parents and teachers.
  • They show little empathy toward their victims.
  • They are physically stronger than other boys (among boys).

Certain child-rearing practices can predict whether children will become bullies. The perfect incubator combines inattention, lack of warmth, poor supervision, and aggressive parental behavior. The latter may include physical and verbal aggression toward the child or each other.

Bullies often have issues at home. Olweus’s research shows the following general patterns:

  • Home life is characterized by emotional frigidity.
  • A greater likelihood exists of chaotic home organization.
  • The family tends to be socially isolated.
  • Parents are frequently in conflict and disharmony.
  • Child-rearing practices are largely ineffective.
  • Family order is maintained rigidly.

Does your school have a problem with bullies? Check out our free anti-bullying resources and lesson plans and learn more about our anti-bullying workshops for educators, coaches, and parents.