Bullying doesn’t end on the elementary school playground, despite the stricter rules and supervision present in middle schools and high schools. But the dynamic of bullying does change as children near adulthood. Teens and pre-teens, who reevaluate their values and strongly emphasize their social roles, use bullying in a number of different ways.
You probably remember many years ago when your two-year-old would act out just to get your attention. Well, that attitude can return in the pre-teen and teen years. Children nearing adulthood have a newfound desire for attention, especially attention from their peers. In many cases, a pre-teen or teen bully is mistreating his peers just to gain social attention. In his mind, these acts of harassment might be gaining him notoriety, a “tough” reputation or a “class-clown” type of status. Bully scholar Edward Dragan author of the book, “The Bully Action Guide,” mentions that this type of attention-seeking behavior often stems from a true lack of attention, such as from the family or from a close-knit group of friends.
The pawn is similar to the attention-seeker in that he engages in bullying for social reasons. In many cases, bullies become bullies to fit in with their peers. If a teen who wants to be part of a “tough” clique or “cool” clique finds that members of his desired clique harass others, he might follow as a way of fitting in. In this way, he might grow closer to his potential friends, which might exacerbate bullying behavior. For example, once in the group, he might mistreat those outside the group to prove his status as part of the group. Said in another way, the root cause of this kind of bully is peer pressure.
Some bullying is unrelated to in-group attention seeking and more related to hurting others. The competitor bully does just that: hurts others for personal gain. This type of bullying is common among female teens, who tend to use gossip and rumor-spreading to hurt their enemies. A teen girl who learns that another girl shares her crush might harass her competitor through social media and note-passing, hurting that girl’s social reputation. In the bully’s mind, this is helping her win her potential mate. If this strategy proves successful, the bully might end up relying on it for future efforts.
Not all bullying is purely socially motivated. Some drive for bullying comes from within. Psychopaths, for example, tend to gain intrinsic pleasure from mistreating other people or animals. Luckily, only about 1% of the population are psychopaths, but this doesn’t mean intrinsically motivated bullies are rare in pre-teens or teens. On the contrary, children put an increasingly strong emphasis on autonomy as they age. When a pre-teen or teen does not feel in control of his life, he might use his superior size, age, status or other advantage to gain a sense of control over his peers. Usually, this type of bully comes from a family that is overbearing, giving little freedom to their kids.