Common Characteristics of a Bully

There are many reasons why a teen might turn into a bully.
Holloway/Stone/Getty Images

While some bullies become evident at a young age, others don't emerge until the teenage years. And sometimes, even good kids turn into bullies. Here are some of the most common characteristics and risk factors behind teenage bullies.

Common Characteristics of Teenage Bullies

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, most teenage bullies share these features and traits:

  • Impulsive
  • Anger management problems
  • Tries to control other people, rather than inspiring others to follow
  • Easily frustrated and annoyed
  • Lacks empathy, isn't sympathetic to anyone's needs or desires but their own
  • Blames a victim for his own behavior by saying things like, "If that geek didn't look so stupid, I wouldn't have to hit him."
  • Difficulty following rules and little respect for authority
  • View violence in a positive way, such as a form of entertainment or a good way to get needs met
  • Boys who bully tend to be physically stronger than other children
  • Girls who bully tend to be perceived as popular

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 his or her peers.

However, it has been found that children who bully are more likely than their non-bullying peers to come from homes with certain characteristics. Here are some common family risk factors for bullying:

  • A lack of warmth and involvement on the part of parents. This can be because of a single parent environment where the parent is not at home or is too tired or apathetic when they are at home. 
  • Overly permissive parenting (including a lack of limits for children's behavior). 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.
  • A lack of supervision by parents. Without appropriate supervision, teens may 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. It's not just permissive parents who encourage bullying. Parents who use corporal punishment, or those who instill consequences that border on abusive, may raise children to bully 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 in the home, such as frequent moves, may also contribute to bullying. 

    Bullying and Other Violent and/or Antisocial Behaviors

    Bullying may stem from underlying psychological issues. Mental health issues, like anxiety, or behavior disorder, like oppositional defiant disorder, may contribute to bullying. Other teens begin to bully after they've been abused or experienced a traumatic event. 

    While there is much discussion about what happens to young people 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.

    Children who frequently bully their peers are more likely than others to:

    • Get into frequent fights
    • Be injured in a fight
    • Vandalize or steal property
    • Drink alcohol
    • Smoke
    • Be truant from school
    • Drop out of school
    • Carry a weapon

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

    If bullying persists, consider getting professional help. A mental health professional may be able to rule out an underlying mental health issue and can teach your teen new skills that will help him get his needs met without bullying other kids. 

    View Article Sources
    • Cho S. Explaining the overlap between bullying perpetration and bullying victimization: assessing the time-ordered and correlative relationships. Children and Youth Services Review. 2017;79:280-290. ​
    • Lambe LJ, Craig WM. Bullying involvement and adolescent substance use: A multilevel investigation of individual and neighbourhood risk factors. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2017.
    • Lazuras L, Barkoukis V, Tsorbatzoudis H. Face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying in adolescents: Trans-contextual effects and role overlap. Technology in Society. 2017;48:97-101.