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Why does bullying occur?

A person can engage in bullying behaviour because they:

  • don't like the person being bullied
  • find bullying fun
  • like to feel tough and strong, in control
  • think it will make them popular.

(Source: Australian Covert Bullying Study Executive Summary (PDF, 214KB) p.xxii, May 2009, Edith Cowan University).

Bullying behaviour can arise from distrust, fear, misunderstanding, lack of knowledge or jealousy - all factors that schools can address in positive and proactive ways.

Bullying can also happen because the student gets a reaction they like. This is where teaching students ways to effectively respond to bullying behaviour is helpful.

The following profiles of students who are more likely to be bullied and those who more like to bully others are based on patterns found in Australian research; the profiles do not mean all students with these characteristics will be involved in bullying.

Students who are more likely to be bullied are also more likely to:

  • feel disconnected from school and not like school
  • lack quality friendships at school
  • display high levels of emotionality that indicate vulnerability and low levels of resilience
  • be less well accepted by peers, avoid conflict and be socially withdrawn
  • have low self-esteem
  • be relatively non-assertive
  • be different in some way.

Students who are more likely to bully others are more likely to:

  • feel disconnected from school and dislike school
  • demonstrate good leadership skills
  • demonstrate good verbal skills and ability to talk themselves out of trouble
  • demonstrate low levels of moral reasoning and high levels of egocentric reasoning
  • believe that the use of aggression is an acceptable way to achieve their own goals
  • be preoccupied with their own goals and not concerned about the rights of others
  • show more emotional instability, as do those students who support them
  • be reasonably popular but more disliked than non-bullying peers
  • be less anxious than peers
  • have high self esteem and an inflated view of themselves, especially about their social behaviour and influence
  • have lower levels of empathy than other students
  • have poor impulse control and poor anger management skills
  • be less likely to consider the negative consequences of their actions on others or on their own relationships over time.