Some children bully to fit in at school.
Some children bully to fit in at school.

Despite what you may see on TV and in the movies, bullies can be just about anyone in a school. The truth behind bullying is that there isn't one stereotypical "bully." Risk factors that lead to bullying range from low self-confidence and anxiety to an inflated sense of self-esteem and lack of empathy. Likewise, kids who frustrate easily, find following rules a challenge and have friends who also bully are more likely than other children to engage in threatening and harmful behaviors.

Students Have Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is a potential risk factor for bullying. In fact, in a study of 2,678 students in elementary through high school, researchers found that low self-esteem was linked to bullying behaviors, according to the journal "Child Development." One possible explanation for this connection is that the students with low self-esteem used bullying at school as a way to feel better about themselves. Threatening others or treating others as victims was a way that these students made themselves feel powerful. Even though low self-esteem is a risk factor, every child who lacks confidence doesn't bully others just as every child who bullies doesn't lack confidence. Students who are dominant, confident or have an inflated self-image may also threaten others as a way to gain power. For some students, low self-esteem is a risk factor for being bullied. Children who appear weak, are unpopular or aren't able to defend themselves may become victims of bullying

Students with Dominant Personalities

While being assertive and acting as a leader are positive behaviors, exhibiting aggressive tendencies is not. While being assertive or a leader is a positive, being aggressive isn't. Some students who bully are popular and socially connected at school. Even though these children and teens have friends, enjoy active social lives and are well-integrated into the school community, they also have a need to dominate less popular students. To maintain popularity, this type of student bullies other children. Whether the cause is the desire to be in charge or the student believes that acting dominant equals popularity, the result is bullying.

Peer Pressure and the Desire to Fit In

Some students bully to retain their popularity while others act in violent or threatening ways to fit in. What's interesting to note is that these students aren't necessarily aggressive and they don't always feel comfortable with their own bullying behaviors. The pressure to fit in and/or please the popular students may influence a child enough to make her bully others. For some students, having friends who bully is a risk factor, but not a guarantee that they will also become aggressive. Rather, being friends with a bully may increase the likelihood that a child will adopt similar ways of thinking and acting.

Students Without Teacher and Staff Support

When schools don't take bullying seriously, students suffer. If a teacher, administrator or other school staff member ignores cases of bullying, the students may believe that their behavior is acceptable. But if they respond immediately to bullying and use these incidents as teachable moments, the likelihood of these violent acts decreases. Another issue contributing to bullying in some schools is an environment that is not warm and welcoming. When teachers and staff consistently use negative feedback, the students may also adopt negative attitudes. This type of setting may contribute to bullying.