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Types of Bullies & the Harm Bullying Causes

written by: Casey • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/2/2012

Bullying is becoming an increasingly serious problem in schools and online. Obviously it can be extremely harmful to victim--but also to the bully, and to the children's environment as a whole.

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    The Harms of Bullying

    Bullying is a serious problem that harms not only the victim, but everyone that it touches. It can have a serious negative effect on the bully, witnesses, and the environment as a whole.

    The most obvious harm occurs to the victim. It could be anything from physical injury to embarrassment, to harm to their self esteem and even potential for success in the future. Extreme bullying (particularly coupled with sexual harassment) may cause depression or even lead to suicide. Victims often display lowered self-esteem and lowered grades, anxiety, and decreased attentiveness. Being bullied may cause a child to shy away from other children as well, or even adults--or it may cause them to become clingy, fearing separation from adults. It really depends on the individual child, the situation, and the intensity of the bullying, but it is clear that the harm is very real.

    However, while attention is usually focused on this harm to the victim, also be aware of the negative effects on the bully. Studies have shown* that bullies are more likely to drop out of school, and that forty percent are convicted of at least three crimes by the age of twenty-four. Elementary school bullies are five times more likely than non-bullies to have a criminal record by the age of thirty. They are more likely to be involved in domestic violence and to work jobs below their skill level. Moreover, a bully's children are more likely to be bullies themselves, resulting in a vicious cycle of abuse.

    Even if other students are not directly involved in the bullying, it can also have a negative impact on witnesses and the educational environment as a whole. Other children may be anxious or afraid that it could happen to them as well. They may be confused about whether to tell someone, or alienated by friends who are bullied. Bullying leads to an imbalanced environment, and can cultivate a culture of fear at a very young age.

    Because Cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon, we do not know enough about how some of the harms above may or may not apply--but we do know that it is leading to more and more bullies, which means more and more victims.

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    Three Basic Types of Bullies

    Many child psychologists have studied the phenomenon of schoolyard bullying over the years, and generally agree that it has at least three elements: an intent to harm, threats to further aggression, and an imbalance of power. Bullying is a deliberate act intended to create fear and/or humiliation in the victim.

    There are three main types of bullies: physical, verbal, and relational. The most common kind is verbal, accounting for about seventy percent of reported bullying cases. The remainder mostly consists of physical bullies, with a few relational bullies. Physical bullies are perhaps what you would typically think of—generally male, and using action behaviors like punching, kicking, hitting. They tend to be larger than the other children, and exhibit hostile behavior in general.

    Verbal bullies use words to abuse and humiliate their victims. Boys and girls are equally likely to be this sort of bully. Though physical harm to the victim is rare, this type of bullying can be just as damaging. The tragic cases of child suicides are often related to this sort of behavior.

    Relational bullies use their social powers to exclude others from the group. This may not seem as serious as the other two, but feelings of rejection and isolation can have a big impact on a child. Girls are much more likely to engage in this sort of behavior, since boys tend to play in larger groups with less defined boundaries.Bullies may be popular or unpopular, depending on whether they encounter negative repercussions for their aggressive behavior. If so, they may be rejected by the other children and end up resorting to violence to get attention.

    If you spot a bully in your classroom, it may be helpful to try to figure out where they fit into this paradigm. Though it may be your first instinct to isolate the bully, that may actually not be the best course of action. The key is to find out what emotional problems have led to the behavior, answers that perhaps only a counselor would be able to provide. In these cases the school counselor or social worker should be notified so that they can meet with the student and explore what may be the cause of the bullying behavior.


  • * The statistics in this paragraph come from the article "For Every Bully There Is a Victim," by Gloria Lawrence and Frank D. Adams, published in American Secondary Education in 2006.