Children who bully at school
This resource is part of a series on bullying. Access the related bullying practice resources.
School bullying is a serious problem worldwide. There is now strong evidence to indicate that children who bully at school are at significant risk for a range of antisocial, criminal and poor health outcomes later in life. Importantly, bullying is a behaviour often influenced by family environment. As such, working with families to interrupt the continuity from school bullying to later adverse life outcomes could be viewed as a form of early intervention for preventing crime, as well as a method of promoting health. This paper focuses on children who bully at school, and specifically on the ways in which parenting and family functioning underpin a child's bullying behaviour. New evidence for possible protective or intervening factors that may interrupt the developmental sequence of antisocial behaviour is summarised. Parental involvement in anti-bullying interventions is also considered. Finally, some promising approaches for working with children who bully are outlined.
This paper provides background information about children who bully. A related publication, Working With Families Whose Child is Bullying, has suggestions for practitioners and other professionals on ways to work with and support families with a child who is bullying.
Bullying by children is a serious problem in Australia and elsewhere.
Children who bully tend to have a wide array of conduct problems, and show high levels of depressive, aggressive and delinquent behaviour.
Bullying by children is considered a stepping stone for criminal behaviours, increasing the risk of police contact when they become adults by more than half.
Children who bully increase their risk of later depression by 30%.
Bullying arises from the complexity of children's relationships with family members, peers, and the school community and culture. Families, especially, play an important role in bullying behaviours.
Children who bully require greater support for behaviour change through targeted approaches. Children who chronically bully may also have mental health issues that require specialist intervention.
Importantly, children who bully are not doomed to bully all of their life. Effective and early treatment may interrupt the risk of progressing from school bullying to later adverse life outcomes.
Authors and Acknowledgements
At the time of writing Jodie Lodge was a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Thank you to Catherine Whitington (Therapeutic Youth Services, Uniting Communities) for valuable feedback on an earlier version of this paper.
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