What Motivates a Teenager to Become a Bully?


Bullying is a serious problem for many American teenagers. According to statistics from a 2010 survey by the National Center for Education, 39 percent of middle school administrators reported that bullying took place in their schools on a daily basis. (see ref. 1 p. 2) With statistics like these, it's not surprising that parents, teens and educators are concerned and even frightened about bullying. Learning the reasons teens are motivated to become bullies in the first place may shed some light on this widespread problem.

Low Self-Esteem

  • Although it might seem that bullies have superiority complexes, the fact of the matter is that many bullies often suffer from extremely low levels of self-esteem, according to Teen's Health. (see ref. 2) Some bullies feel like they are tougher than their peers and want to prove their toughness to others, but many bullies lash out at their victims because they feel an underlying lack of a sense of self. They might not have learned to experience a sense of self-worth. Not surprisingly, research published in the July 2001 issue of the journal, "Aggressive Behavior" found that both bullies and their victims had lower global self-esteem than their non-bullied or non-victim peers. (see ref. 3)

Parental Modeling

  • Unfortunately, some teens learn to become bullies from their parents. Teens subconsciously imitate parental behavior. They might mimic the way their parents talk to each other or imitate the way their parents treat each other, says Jeff Brown, a licensed psychologist and assistant clinical professor of psychology in the psychiatry department at Harvard University in a 2012 interview with "US News and World Reports Education." (see ref. 4) Witnessing poor parental relationships, abusive behavior and name-calling can frequently motivate teens become bullies because they feel that these are appropriate ways to treat others.

Abuse and Authoritarian Parents

  • Teens who are victims of verbal, emotional, sexual or physical abuse from their parents, guardians or other significant adults may be more likely to become bullies than peers who do not experience abuse. The same often goes for teens whose parents exhibit strict, harsh or authoritarian parenting styles or teens who lack a positive role model. In her book, "The Everything Parent's Guide to Dealing with Bullies," social worker and assistant principal Deborah Carpenter points out that bullying is a way for abused children to feel empowered. Sadly, when they intimidate their peers, they often want to inflict the same suffering on others that they experience at home. (see ref. 5 p. 78)

Mental Health Problems

  • Sometimes, bullies might suffer from personality disorders or mental health issues like depression. According to Teen's Health, some bullies experience a lack of empathy for others or have an inability to feel normal, healthy emotions, such as guilt or remorse. Teens who can't experience these feelings are unable to put themselves in another's shoes and truly imagine what it might be like to be on the receiving end of their bullying behaviors. In such cases, these troubled teens usually require the assistance of a qualified mental health professional. (see ref. 2)


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