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Talking to your child about why bullies bully

Bullying is an age-old issue but one that has been given a new face in the age of social media. This means that bullying isn’t simply left in the playground but can follow young people into their own homes. When bullying happens online it is usually referred to as cyberbullying. When people continuously send abusive and harmful messages to people they don’t know online this is known as trolling.

There is a clear link between bullying and self-esteem issues, both for the bully and the bullied. It can be helpful to talk to your child about why some people may bully or ‘troll’ others online.

Here are some reasons why bullies bully:

To exert power and control over someone

  • Bullying is an inherently aggressive act and a way of asserting dominance and gaining social status, especially when a bully’s behaviour is not denounced by their peers and in some cases is even reinforced by them.

They’ve been bullied themselves

  • A study by Ditch the Label found that those who bully are far more likely than average to have experienced a stressful or traumatic situation in the past 5 years.
  • Common examples include being bullied by somebody else, abuse or a stressful homelife. Of course, not everyone who has experienced these hardships bully. Its therefore not an excuse for bullying, but a reason why some people engage in aggressive and negative coping mechanisms.

Their own low self-esteem

  • Self-esteem issues can be both a result of being bullied and a reason why people bully.
  • To mask how they really feel about themselves, some bullies focus attention on someone else.
  • Bullying can, for some, be a way to deflect and project insecurities and issues onto others.
  • Those who have been bullied are more likely to bully themselves – this can be because their self esteem has been eroded by being bullied and they are looking to boost it by bullying others. This creates the vicious cycle.

When feeling insecure in their relationships

  • To maintain friendships, bullies might be pressured by their peers to behave a certain way.
  • People who are surrounded by caring and secure relationships are far less likely to bully as they don’t have that need to try and assert social dominance and ‘impress’ their peers.


The free Uniquely Me parent guide is packed with much more advice and some practical activities to help support you with boosting your child’s body confidence and self-esteem.

Read, download or print the free Uniquely Me parent guide

This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.

Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on

These pages are brought to you by Parent Zone and the Dove Self-Esteem Project

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

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