How Being a Bully Affects Future Development

Boy (11-12) being picked on by bullies
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You may have heard about the short-term and long-range effects of being bullied, but what are the effects of being a bully? Children who are bullies have an increased risk for many negative outcomes. Parents who suspect their child is engaging in bullying behavior may want to intervene to help prevent these problems throughout their child's life.

Negative Impacts

People who are or were bullies are more likely to drop out of school than their peers. They are at increased risk of experiencing depression, anxiety disorder, and psychological distress, especially if they face up to the seriousness of their bullying behavior. Bullies are more likely to abuse tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. They are more likely than their peers to engage in early sexual activity.

Increased Risk of Problems With the Law

Being a bully as a child or teen increases the odds of future run-ins with the law. Former bullies tend to have more traffic violations and four times the rate of criminal behavior than their non-bullying peers. Research has found that 60% of children who bullied other children in grades 6 through 9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 and 35. Studies have also shown that former bullies are also more likely to carry weapons than non-bullies and may develop an antisocial personality disorder.

Bullies Carry Relationship Problems Into Adulthood

Being a bully in childhood seems to impact a person's home life as an adult. Former bullies tend to have problems with long-term relationships and may be abusive toward both their spouses and children. They also have a harder time securing and maintaining employment than people who were not bullies. People who had been bullies are more likely to have children who become bullies themselves, thus beginning the cycle all over again.

Research Into the Effects

Extensive research has studied the effects of bullying on victims, while new research on the perpetrators themselves is emerging. Also, there are a significant number of bullies who are also victims of bullies. This also brings to mind the question of whether cyberbullies will have the same negative consequences as traditional "real-world" bullies, but since this is a relatively new phenomena more research is still needed.

Warning Signs That Your Child Is Bullying Others

Being a bully may have negative consequences throughout your child's life. If you look for signs that he is engaging in this behavior, you may be able to help your child stop bullying.

Warning signs that your child is a bully include:

  • Gets into physical and verbal altercations
  • Are friends with other children who are bullies
  • Shows signs of becoming increasingly aggressive
  • Frequently has disciplinary problems at school
  • Blames others rather than taking responsibility for their own actions
  • Is very competitive and focused on popularity

A Word From Verywell

Bullying behavior may be a sign that your child needs help to develop coping mechanisms and appropriate relationships with others. If you can intervene to end bullying behavior and help your child develop better social skills, it will benefit your child for the rest of their life.

6 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.
  1. Effects of Bullying.

  2. Wolke D, Lereya ST. Long-term effects of bullyingArch Dis Child. 2015;100(9):879-885. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2014-306667

  3. Radliff KM, Wheaton JE, Robinson K, Morris J. Illuminating the relationship between bullying and substance use among middle and high school youth. Addict Behav. 2012;37(4):569-572. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2012.01.001

  4. Holt MK, Matjasko JL, Espelage D, Reid G, Koenig B. Sexual Risk Taking and Bullying Among Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2013;132(6):e1481-1487. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-0401

  5. Shetgiri R. Bullying and Victimization Among ChildrenAdv Pediatr. 2013;60(1):33-51. doi:10.1016/j.yapd.2013.04.004

  6. American Psychological Association. Who Is Likely to Become a Bully, Victim or Both?

Additional Reading

By Rebecca Fraser-Thill
Rebecca Fraser-Thill holds a Master's Degree in developmental psychology and writes about child development and tween parenting.