Common Characteristics of a Bully

teenage bully roughing up another boy in a locker room

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While some kids turn into bullies during preschool, others don't start bullying until the teen years. Learning about the common characteristics of a teenage bully can help you identify kids who may be at risk of becoming a bully. It can also help you better understand why some kids turn into bullies and others don't.

While one teenage bully may primarily attack people online, others may bully their peers at school. Despite whatever method they use to torment their targets, research shows most teenage bullies share these characteristics and exhibit these behaviors.

  • Impulsiveness
  • Anger management problems
  • Controlling, rather than leading
  • Prone to frustration and feeling annoyed
  • Lacking empathy; not sympathetic to the needs or desires of others
  • Blames victims by saying things like, "If that geek didn't look so stupid, I wouldn't have to hit him."
  • Difficulty following rules
  • Little respect for authority
  • Views violence in a positive way, such as a form of entertainment or a good way to get needs met
  • Physically stronger than other children (common with boys who bully)
  • Perceived as popular (common with girls who bully)

Bullying may stem from underlying mental health issues, like anxiety, or behavior disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder. Other teens begin to bully after they've been abused or experienced a traumatic event. 

Family Risk Factors for Bullying

There is no single cause of bullying among children. A host of different factors can place a child at risk for bullying their peers. But research has found that children who bully are more likely than their non-bullying peers to come from homes with certain characteristics. Family risk factors for bullying include:

Lack of Parental Warmth and Involvement

This can be because the child lives with parent(s) who are not at home or too tired to give time and attention to a child. It may also happen in homes where parents are apathetic about their kids and lack the desire to be involved in their activities. 

Overly Permissive Parenting

When children are given few rules and little guidance, they may try to control their peers. Permissive parents don't set limits and they often make children feel entitled.

Lack of Parental Supervision

Without appropriate supervision, teens have to fend for themselves. They may find that being mean, bossy, and demanding gets their needs met temporarily. But since bullies struggle to establish healthy relationships, their behavior backfires in the long-term.

Harsh, Physical Discipline

Parents who use corporal punishment, or those who instill consequences that border on abusive, may raise children who bully others. Teenagers who have been shamed often want to shame others.

Chaos and Conflict

Children who witness bullying in the home or those who are bullied by siblings are more likely to bully others. Constant chaos, such as frequent moves or disruptions in schooling, may also contribute to bullying. 

Consequences of Bullying and Other Antisocial Behaviors

While there is much discussion about what happens to young people who are victims of bullying, there's less discussion about the consequences bullies receive. While many of them experience individual consequences, society as a whole can pay a big price for children who bully or exhibit other violent or antisocial behaviors.

Children who frequently bully their peers are more likely than others to carry a weapon, get into frequent fights, and be injured in fights. They may vandalize or steal property. They may drink alcohol or smoke. They may perform poorly in school, be truant. or drop out.

What to Do If Your Child Is a Bully

If your child is a bully, address the issues head-on. Provide increased supervision, set clear limits, and enforce consequences.

Talk to your teen about bullying. Discuss the effect it can have on other kids as well as the potential legal, social, and educational consequences it can have on your teen.

If your child continues to bully others, get professional help. A mental health professional may be able to rule out an underlying mental health issue and can teach your teen the social skills they need to get their needs met without picking on other kids.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.