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, other kids don't start bullying until the teen years.

Learning about the common characteristics of a teenage bully can help you identify the 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.

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, research shows most teenage bullies share these characteristics and exhibit these behaviors:

  • 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.

Research has 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:

  • Lack of Warmth and Involvement on the Part of Parents: This can be because the child lives with a single parent who is not at home or is too tired to give time and attention to a child. It may also result 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 to 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 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 a 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 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.

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

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 consequences 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 he needs to get his needs met without picking on other kids.

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Article 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
  • 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 Neighborhood 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.