Why Do Children Bully Other Children Online?

Anti-bullying initiatives have been around for as long as bullying has, yet it still remains a globally pervasive issue. So, why do children bully?

More often than not, children who participate in bullying behaviours are experiencing issues in their own lives. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, “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”.

A lot of factors can contribute to a child’s tendency to act aggressively toward others (e.g. mood or behavioural disorders and personal provocation) but violence is typically a learned behaviour. In particular, young children who make violent threats or use coarse and abusive language are likely to have heard this language being used by a person of influence in their life.

Key Statistics On Bullying

  • 160,000 children miss school each day due to bullying

  • Children who bully other children tend to have a wide range of conduct problems and show high levels of depressive, aggressive and delinquent behaviour

  • Children who bully increase their risk of developing depression later in life by 30%

  • Bullying behaviour is not always the same as mean behaviour; in order to be considered bullying, the behaviour has to be repeated and intentionally harmful in nature

  • Some children participate in bullying as a self-preservation tactic, whereby it is easier to join forces with a known bully than it is to oppose them

  • Bullying is widely considered to be a systematic abuse of power

  • Research suggests that between 10 – 20% of students will be a cyberbully at some point

  • Most young people who bully others have been bullied themselves

 “While some conceptualise bullying as a continuum of behaviours, others suggest that children who bully can be grouped by their level of involvement:

Ringleaders: Organising a group of bullies and initiating the bullying

Followers: Who join in the bullying once it is started

„Reinforcers: Who do not actively join in, but reinforce more passively by watching and laughing or encouraging the bullying.”

Why Do Children Bully Other Children Online?

In the context of cyberbullying, things become a little more complex. In part, this is because cyberbullying takes so many different forms, but it’s also partly because cyberbullying is less confrontational than conventional, face to face bullying. While physical aggression is usually symptomatic of learned violence or behavioural problems, cyberbullying can extend to more inadvertent behaviours such as excluding someone from a group chat, or liking/sharing an embarrassing image of someone on social media simply to humiliate them. While sometimes these things are done deliberately and with the willful intent to cause harm, there are also times when it is not – such as when a joke gets out of hand, or when a person’s tone or meaning is misconstrued. Therefore, perpetrators of cyberbullying may not necessarily possess traditional bullying characteristics or motivations, and may simply act opportunistically.

Children who bully other children online may very well bully offline as well, but technology and the Internet make it possible for children to act on mean impulses with less risk of being caught. This effectively lowers the stakes for children who might hold a grudge against a peer, or who want to experiment with new language. It can, therefore, take less to provoke a child online than it would in an offline context.

Tips For Parents

  • Teach your child effective conflict management skills so they can handle disagreements or upsetting situations with their peers diplomatically

  • Remind your child that, just because they cannot see the person’s face, there is a living breathing human being on the other side of every on-screen interaction

  • Help your child to develop empathy and resilience

  • Explain that, even if they aren’t the one who uploaded an embarrassing photo or made a mean status about someone, if they like or share it then they are being a bully by making the situation worse for the victim


1. Jodie Lodge & The Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014. Children who bully at school. CFCA PAPER NO. 27.

2. Tina Meier, 2016. What kids have to say about bullying and how to end it.

3. University of New Hampshire & Family Development Fact Sheet. Why do some children bully others? Bullies and their victims.

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