Why Bullies Bully

Bullies dominate, blame and use others. They see weaker kids as their target, and don’t accept the consequences of their actions.  Teenagers bully for many different reasons.

Factors That Combine to Motivate Bullies

There is a range of reasons that teens might engage in bullying behavior.  For most bullies, several of these factors combine. 

1. Power/Dominance

Teens who have high control needs or feel powerless in other areas of their life are prone to bullying.  Some teens may bully to create a world in which they can dominate and feel secure.  Some teens bully to keep others from bullying them.  And some teens bully just because they can. 

2. Bias/Prejudice

More often than not, teens will bully others because they are different.  The differences range from body type, developmental or learning disabilities and allergies to race, religion or sexual orientation.  And there are many more differences, such as how a person dresses, socio-economic status, being shy or socially awkward or simply being new in a school.

3. Popularity/Social Status/Fitting In

Teens who are popular may bully to protect their status and those that are trying to climb the social ladder or fit in may bully to put others down or gain acceptance from those with the desired social status.  They may engage in the bullying simply to avoid being singled out to be bullied themselves. 

4. Revenge/Payback

Some teens who have been victims of bullying themselves will bully others to gain a sense of control, simply lash out or to seek revenge against a bully.  These teens are both victims and bullies, which is a very confusing and disturbing place to be.  They may feel that their bullying others is justified by their experiences of being bullied.

Bullying is not a reflection of the victim’s character, but rather a sign of the bully’s lack of character.


5. Home Environment

Problems at home can precipitate bullying.  Abusive parents or other adults, siblings that bully, or parents that are absent or providing little guidance can all be factors.  Family adults may often role model bullying and teens follow to affiliate with them.   Many biases and prejudices might also be active at home.

6. Attention/Drama

Bullies are usually very focused on themselves.  They need attention – “I exist and am significant” – “I need to connect and be a center of attention.”  The bullying may also be a “cry for help” that can’t be expressed directly.

Bullying may also simply be a way to avoid boredom and add some excitement or drama.

7. Psychological Issues

Teens with self-esteem, impulse control or anger issues are also likely to bully.  Bullies may also lack in empathy. Compassion, and caring.  They may also be very sensitive to criticism.

In fact, many bullies fit the DSM-5 diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which the Mayo clinic describes as:

“A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

8. CyberBullying

Cyberbullying makes it easier to bully because it is anonymous.  So, “why bully” can seem more like “why not bully.”  Bullies don’t have to face their targets directly, so it is easier to bully.

Middle School

Bullying can be particularly problematic in middle school.  Middle school is a whole new bigger world to fit into.

  • Teens are usually transitioning from smaller schools to a larger school
  • Academic expectations increase
  • New friend groups are forming, and social pressures increase
  • For many teens, the beginning of puberty creates significant physical, emotional and behavior changes. 
  • Teens often don’t have the skills to manage all of these changes and expectations

All of this “newness” and pressure can make people more vulnerable to bullying at the same time that it can precipitate more bullying.