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Characteristics of Bullies in Schools
Although bullies may differ in the type of aggression they use, most bullies share common characteristics. According to the NSSC, bullies are overly aggressive, destructive, and enjoy dominating other children (Carney & Merrell; NSSC).
They also tend to be hot-tempered, impulsive, and have a low tolerance for frustration (Olweus). Bullies tend to have difficulty processing social information and often interpret other's behaviors as being antagonistic, even when they are not (Dodge; McNamara & McNamara). Although peers generally dislike bullies in adolescence, bullies tend to be popular with other aggressive children in earlier grades (Pellegrini). In fact, one study found that bullies reported greater ease in making friends than did other children (Nansel et al.).The link between bullying and peer social status requires further clarification. Some researchers have identified popular aggressive and unpopular aggressive bully subtypes (Farmer et al). Popular aggressive bullies socialize with other popular children and do not appear to encounter significant social stigma stemming from their aggression. Unpopular aggressive bullies are typically rejected or neglected by other children and may use aggression as a way to get attention. However, with their teachers and other adults, both types of bullies tend to act aggressively and may actually frighten some of these adults because of their physical strength and defiant attitude (Olweus). Most bullies have a positive attitude toward violence, particularly as a means to solve problems or get what they want (Carney & Merrell; Glew et al.). Often, bullies are "rewarded" with cigarettes, money, and prestige as a result of their aggression (Olweus,). They also use bullying behavior to gain or maintain dominance and tend to lack a sense of empathy for their victims (Beale). Many bullies do not realize the level of their aggression (NSSC). Researchers have also found that bullies are more likely to be involved with other problem behaviors, such as drinking and smoking (Nansel et al.). In addition, bullies usually lack problem-solving skills and tend to externalize their problems as a means of coping
(Andreou). They also show poorer school achievement and demonstrate a dislike of the school environment, particularly in middle school (Nansel et al.; also see DHHS). Finally, a debate exists in the literature as to whether bullies suffer from low self-esteem. Some researchers suggested that bullies have either average or lower-than-average levels of insecurity (Glew et al.). In contrast, other studies showed that bullies of both primary and post-primary school age had significantly lower global self-esteem scores than children who had not bullied others (O'Moore & Kirkham).
Research suggests that the families of bullies are often troubled (Olweus). Generally, bullies' parents are hostile, rejecting, and indifferent to their children. The father figure in these homes is usually weak, if present at all, and the mother tends to be isolated and may have a permissive parenting style (Curtner-Smith; Olweus); thus, supervision of the children's whereabouts or activities tends to be minimal (Roberts) .When parents are aware of their child's aggressive behaviors, many dismiss them as a rite of passage or as "boys being boys" (McNamara & McNamara). Research suggests that the bully's level of aggression will increase if the caretaker continues to tolerate aggressive behaviors toward the child's peers, siblings, and teachers (Olweus). Discipline in these homes is usually inconsistent (Carney & Merrell). Parents of bullies tend to use power-assertive techniques to manage behavior (Pellegrini; Schwartz, Dodge, & Coie). Punishment is often physical or in the form of an angry, emotional outburst and is often followed by a long period of time in which the child is ignored (Roberts). As a result, these children learn that aggression can be used as a means to an end. Bullies imitate the aggressive behaviors they see at home to obtain their goals (Patterson, Capaldi,& Bank; Roberts). Some researchers refer to this coercive cycle of violence to explain the "continuous, intergenerational perpetuation of aggressive behavior" (Carney & Merrell).
Short and Long-Term Effects of Bullying
Many bullies experience mental health difficulties. One study found that, among bullies, nearly one third had attention-deficit disorder, 12.5 percent had depression, and 12.5 percent had oppositional conduct disorder (Kumpulainen, Rasanen, & Puura ;see also, Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela,& Rimpela) .Also, highly aggressive bullies have been found to possess personality defects such as having a positive attitude toward physical aggression (Andreou; Olweus). Furthermore, one study found that bullies tend to engage in frequent excessive drinking and other substance use more often than victims or bully-victims (Kaltiala-Heino et al.). Research has found that, as adults, bullies often display externalizing behaviors and hyperactivity (Kumpulainen & Rasanen). Finally, being a bully has been associated with antisocial development in adulthood (Kaltiala-Heino et al.; Olweus; Pulkkinen & Pitkanen). Children who bully others often experience long-term effects and consequences as a result of their bullying. According to NSSC, a disproportionately high number of bullies underachieve in school and later perform below potential in employment settings (Carney & Merrell; NSSC). In addition, studies have found that by age 30 bullies were likely to have more criminal convictions and traffic violations than their less-aggressive peers (Roberts). A 1991 study found that 60 percent of boys who were labeled as bullies in grades 6 through 9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 and 35; 40 percent of these boys had three or more convictions by this time (Glew et al.; Olweus).These adults were also more likely to have displayed aggression toward their
spouses and were more likely co use severe physical punishment on their own children (Roberts). In addition, research suggests that adults who were bullies as children tend to have children who become bullies (Carney & Merrell; NSSC).Thus, aggressive behaviors may continue from one generation to the next.
- Smokowski PhD MSW, Paul R and Kelly Holland Kopasz MSW; Bulling in School: An Overview of Types, Effects, Family Characteristics, and Intervention Strategies; Children & Schools; Apr2005, Vol. 27 Issue 2, p101
Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about characteristics of bullies in schools. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Berkowitz, R., & Benbenishty, R. (2012). Perceptions of teachers’ support, safety, and absence from school because of fear among victims, bullies, and bully‐victims. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(1), 67–74.
Fanti, K. A., & Kimonis, E. R. (2013). Dimensions of juvenile psychopathy distinguish “bullies,” “bully-victims,” and “victims”. Psychology of Violence, 3(4), 396–409.
Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Oldehinkel, A. J., De Winter, A. F., Verhulst, F. C., & Ormel, J. (2005). Bullying and Victimization in Elementary Schools: A Comparison of Bullies, Victims, Bully/Victims, and Uninvolved Preadolescents. Developmental Psychology, 41(4), 672–682.
According to Smokowski, what are the two subtypes of bullies? To select and enter your answer go to .