What influences bullying?

Aggressive behaviour and imbalances of power are to be found in social groups everywhere. But bullying can be influenced by news and media, by a tolerance for violence and aggression, by local attitudes towards some groups of people, by prejudice expressed within the family and the nature of the school environment.

Research on responses from 7122 teenagers showed that violence in the home and a negative, punitive parenting style were factors significantly linked to experiences of both victims and bullies, when compared with the experiences of children who were not involved in bullying. So too was the view that ‘you have to be tough to survive’ and the view that ‘school is a waste of time’. Girls who bully were significantly more likely than other girls to say they would ‘use violence to discipline a child’ .

Over protective or controlling parenting was a significant factor in the lives of victims as were poor coping strategies when they were stressed. Victims can become very depressed, anti-social and take risks in ‘self defence’ or use substances to escape their misery.

  • Pupils who bully can have a strong need for power and dominance
  • Pupils who bully can enjoy causing injury or distress to others
  • Pupils who bully may find satisfaction or reward from bullying; this may be psychological or material (if they take other people’s stuff).
  • Pupils who bully may have experienced punitive parenting or violence at home.

Young people can move  in and out of vulnerable periods – an example of this is when they experience family break up. They may emerge happy and confident over time. But during this period they may experience bullying, they may be short tempered or withdrawn. Other young people can find they are bullied during both childhood and adulthood because of a learning difficulty or other aspects of their lives which are linked with the vulnerability we are talking about here. Prejudice changes within the population and certain groups can experience more racism than others due to current events or local news. We can counter this pattern with sensitive discussions about the news, challenging stereotypes and ‘common mistaken beliefs’. To avoid vulnerability remaining entrenched, we need to make it clear to all children from a young age that  bullying is unacceptable so that they carry this with them through life. But for vulnerable groups a far more proactive approach is required.

Children and young people are experience more cyberbullying than their peers include:

Those in care
Young carers
Those with speech or  communication difficulties
Those with emotional health problems
Those with SEND
Those who did not understand e-safety education
Girls are experiencing high levels of misogyny online

What protects against bullying?

Having friends who can be trusted and who are not of the lowest social status in the class has long been identified as one of the strongest protective factors against being bullied.

Children who were protected from being bullied in our research had little or no experience of violence from adults, had parents who used positive parenting strategies and did not over pressurise them. They had someone they believed they could talk to when they were upset and they described a high level of family togetherness. They were optimistic about the future and said their school had an anti-bullying policy.

Students from our anonymous pupil surveys describe effective schools as those who ‘Teach us to respect people who are different’, successfully deal with cases if they occur, and where there is an ethos of equality, caring and respect. Effective schools use assemblies but do not rely so heavily on them as the ineffective schools do. They tend to  embed the bullying intervention work across the curriculum in all areas of school life. It is truly a Whole School Approach.

The ineffective schools tend to command people not to bully, believe that a heavily punitive approach will deal with this complex behaviour and seldom look for reasons behind the bullying. This means they miss the chance to address some fundamental issues such as attitudes towards people with SEN or disabilities. They can miss signs of racism or homophobia which, once established within school, are harder to address.

  • Focus on the whole ecosystem of your school to create an environment in which children and young people can flourish because they feel safe and valued.
  • Set up up multiple routes to report bullying that allow people to do so discreetly.
  • Train peer supporters and run their scheme with care and attention.
  • Discuss with students: values, citizenship, relationships and their online lives and identities.
  • Reward positive behaviour
  • Celebrate diversity and promote equality
  • Keep good records and monitor them regularly
  • Follow up cases to ensure they are resolved
  • Remember that staff can be bullied too.

Impacts of bullying

People who are ostracised or shunned can try desperately to fit in, constantly believing they must change something about or within themselves to be accepted. This is emotionally exhausting and makes it difficult for a child to learn and achieve. They might  become very anxious, complain or aches and pains or stop eating or sleeping normally.

Victims can become withdrawn, sad and depressed. Both bullies and victims were more likely than other children to say they had thought about suicide and even made an attempt.  (The Anti-Bullying team in East Sussex dealt with 7 cases of attempted suicide in 2010. One third of children who present to them have some form of mental health issue.)

Research has shown that people who suffered persistent bullying in childhood can exhibit mental health problems  in adulthood, along with several other physical and emotional problems.

Young people who are badly bullied over time will often leave education at the earliest opportunity, failing to fulfill their potential. Bullying has  been found to be a factor in the lives of those who are NEET at 16.


Katz, A., Stockdale, D & Dabbous, A. (2002) Islington & You, Young Voice for LB Islington
Katz, A., Buchanan, A. and McCoy, A. (1999)
Young Men Speak Out. The Samaritans
John Khan, Head of service, East Sussex Anti Bullying team. 14.03.2011 at ABA/Cambridge seminar on Bullying involving children with SEN
Hodges, EVE, Malone, M.J. & Perry, D.G. (1997) Individual risk and social risk as interacting determinants of victimisation in peer group. Dev. Psychol 1997; 76 677-85
Katz, A., Buchanan, A. and Bream, V. (2001) Bullying in Britain: Testimonies from Teenagers. Young Voice in association with The Centre for Research into Parenting and Children. University of Oxford p. 70
The Cybersurvey 2015 by Youthworks Consulting.