Boys Who Bully: What, When, Where, Why, and How

Bullying is the most frequently occurring form of violence in American schools. Just about everyone has known a bully at school, but until the recent epidemic of school violence, few adults took bullying seriously. Since then, researchers, educators, administrators, and parents have been taking a close look at bullying and its effects on children.

Many elementary through high school students experience bullying and other kinds of social violence daily. Bullying statistics show that as many as half of all children are bullied at some point in a school year, and at least ten percent are bullied regularly (see In addition, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, bullying is the biggest school problem for kids ages eight to fifteen, surpassing even alcohol, drugs, racism, and premarital sex.

What Is Teasing?

Teasing is usually playful, and the kids involved are most often of the same social status, so there is no imbalance of power. Teasing includes occasional peer conflict-often unintentional. Kids who tease are willing to work together to resolve the conflict.

What Is Bullying?

Most experts agree that bullying has the following characteristics:

  • Bullying is a relationship in which one individual seeks to gain power and control over the life of another.
  • Bullying comprises repeated intentional actions that bring harm to an individual.
  • Bullying involves an imbalance of power between the bully and victim.
  • Types of bullying include verbal taunting, threats, stealing, and acts of physical aggression.

It may be difficult for you to figure out whether your child is exaggerating harmless teasing. To learn how well you can recognize the differences between bullying and teasing, take EduGuide's quiz "Is He Teasing or Bullying?"

Look for the following evidence if you suspect your son is a victim of bullying:

  • Change in appetite or eating habits
  • Loss of interest in school and schoolwork with or without a drop in grades
  • Difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)
  • Frequent stomachaches, headaches, or other reasons to stay home from school
  • Sudden withdrawal from family activities
  • Change from seeming happy and secure to moody and depressed
  • Torn or blood-stained clothes
  • Change in the group he usually hangs out with, especially if his friends suddenly stop coming around
  • Sudden need for extra money for school lunches
  • Increased anxiety
  • Spending more time on the computer and not wanting anyone to see what he's doing online

Any one of these behaviors by itself may not be cause for alarm. But several of them combined could signal that your son needs your help, so start asking him some questions. Left unchecked, boys who are bullied over time can suffer serious problems throughout their lives.

Why Do Boys Bully?

  • They've learned bullying at home. Bullies often (but not always) come from homes where they are bullied or abused by their parents or older siblings. Bullying is a way for these boys to regain some of the control they have lost at home.
  • They're insecure. Many bullies are insecure, and intimidating other kids is an attempt to cover up their insecurity. The bully's strategy is to attack others before they attack him.
  • They want to feel powerful. Boys who bully need to control others. To make themselves seem more powerful, bullies often target boys who are quiet, easily pushed around, and have very few friends
  • They crave attention. Many boys bully to gain attention from their peers. They think that by being mean to others, they will become more popular with the "cool" crowd and become more important.
  • They have personal issues. Quite often, boys bully because of personal troubles at home or at school, which cause them to act out against other boys. Underneath this tough exterior, the bully is likely to be angry or depressed.

How Do Boys Bully?

Boys often bully physically. They may punch, kick, push, or tickle excessively. Bullying may also include the following behaviors:

  • Verbal assaults. Boys use verbal methods (name-calling, insults, teasing) to target their victims. Sometimes these assaults take place in front of the victim. Other times, they happen behind the victim's back.
  • Exclusion. Boys sometimes form groups of similar social status and shun other boys who try to join. They either tell the victim to leave them alone or walk (or run) away without saying a word.
  • Online attacks. Cyber bullying (bullying online) is becoming common. Kids cyber bully by using computers to send mean emails to their victims and through instant messaging, blogs, and chat rooms. Exclusion is used by ignoring certain boys while carrying on conversations with others who are in the "group." For more on cyber bullying, see "What Is Cyber Bullying and How Can I Protect My Son?"
  • Scare tactics. Actions like stealing lunch money (or lunch!), threatening to take away a friendship, or threats of physical punishment are ways bullies scare victims into doing what the bullies want.

Who Are the Bullies? Who Are the Victims?

Many parents think they can spot bullies easily, but that's not always true. Bullies come from all types of homes, ethnic and racial groups, and economic backgrounds. Even boys known as "good boys" can be part of a bullying pack. Boys who stand by quietly and go along with a bully simply build up the bully's power by making it seem that the bully has support all around him. This makes the victim feel as if everyone is against him.

Like bullies, victims come from all types of backgrounds. Victims of bullies often suffer from low self-esteem and may be self-conscious about their appearance. Many victims lack adequate social skills and the ability to communicate well. Many are also sensitive or cry easily.

Outcomes of Bullying

Fear of a bully and embarrassment at being bullied may keep a victim from telling a parent or teacher about the situation. And unfortunately, too many school personnel excuse bullying as "boys being boys." They may blame the victims of bullying because victims cry too easily or are overly sensitive.

Victims of bullying can suffer serious long-term effects if bullying persists. Here are just some possible consequences of bullying:

  • Depression
  • Suicide
  • Physical ailments (headaches, digestive problems, ulcers)
  • Sleep problems
  • Academic problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Long-term emotional scars
  • Serious physical injury
  • Property damage
  • Problems with future relationships
  • Violent revenge, aggression