Riddle me this: The making of a bully

June 14, 2019
Mary Beth Nierengarten, MA
Mary Beth Nierengarten, MA

Mary Beth Nierengarten is a freelance medical writer with over 25 years of experience. Her work appears regularly in a number of print and online publications.

Volume 36, Issue 6

This month’s Riddle Me This! online quiz explores the study evidence to reveal some unexpected traits, risk factors, and trajectories for these children. Are there common functional skills traits in younger bullies? What does the literature say about the familial linkage of bullying-is it learned at home?

In "How to identify and treat bullying," the authors review pivotal support strategies for children and adolescents being victimized by bullies-in both their real-world and digital existences.

What about the bullies themselves? Insights on the etiology of bullying may help you to spot these equally troubled patients in your practice. In their own way, might they be victims of a sort themselves?

This month’s Riddle Me This! online quiz explores the study evidence to reveal some unexpected traits, risk factors, and trajectories for these children. Are there common functional skills traits in younger bullies? What does the literature say about the familial linkage of bullying-is it learned at home?

Without recognition, outreach, and counseling interventions for the bullies themselves, the growing tide will continue to engulf the victimized on both sides of the abuse.

1. Preschoolers with good motor functioning skills are more likely to become a bully at age 10 or 11 than preschoolers with less motor functioning skills.

True

False

Answer: True

Data from a longitudinal study found that preschoolers with good motor functioning skill are more likely to become a bully by age 10 or 11 than preschoolers less skilled in motor functioning. These latter children were more likely to become victims at age 10 or 11 as well as age 13 or 14.


Investigators reasoned that children with good motor functioning skills are apt to receive positive feedback from peers that contributes to their overall self-image and popularity, characteristics frequently reported in bullies. Good motor functioning skills also may provide a child with the physical means to bully.

Given the positive features of good motor functioning and the association with bullying, the investigators speculate that motor ability is more important in primary school where there is a stronger focus on play and physical activity compared to secondary school with a higher emphasis on cognition.

Source

Jansen DEMC, Veentra R, Ormel J, et al. Early risk factors for being a bully, victim, or bully/victim in late elementary and early secondary education. The Longitudinal TRAILS study. BMC Public Health 2011;11:440.

2. Which of the following is not true?

A) Boys are more likely to become a bully than girls.

B) Preschoolers who are aggressive are more likely to be a bully well into adulthood.

C) Preschoolers who are not aggressive tend to be uninvolved in a bully/victim relationship.

D) Children from families of low socioeconomic status were more likely to become bullies and victims.

Answer: B

Evidence from a longitudinal study do not show that aggressive preschoolers are more likely to bully into adulthood. Data show that aggressive preschoolers are more likely to become a bully at age 10 to 11, but by age 13 or 14 they are more likely to be victims.

Low aggressiveness in preschoolers is a strong predictor for noninvolvement in bully/victim relationship.

Source

Jansen DEMC, Veentra R, Ormel J, et al. Early risk factors for being a bully, victim, or bully/victim in late elementary and early secondary education. The Longitudinal TRAILS study. BMC Public Health 2011;11:440.

3. Which of the following is true of children who are both bullies and victims (bully/victim)?

A) They have a high degree of anxiety during early childhood.

B) They are at increased risk of developing mental health issues later in life.

C) They are raised in unstable home environments.

D) They are more likely to be good at sports.

Answer: B

Children who are both bullies and victims are at increased risk of adverse long-term outcomes, including increased risk of later depression, anxiety disorders, antisocial personality disorder, and psychotic experiences.

Longitudinal data showed a decreased likelihood of a child with early childhood anxiety from becoming a bully/victim at age 10 or 11.

Source

Klomek AB, Sourander A, Elonheimo H. Bullying by peers in childhood and effects on psychopathology, suicidality, and criminality in adulthood. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015;2:930.

Jansen DEMC, Veentra R, Ormel J, et al. Early risk factors for being a bully, victim, or bully/victim in late elementary and early secondary education. The Longitudinal TRAILS study. BMC Public Health 2011;11:440.

4. Which of the following is false regarding the importance of parenting style on bullying?

A) Physical punishment and psychological aggression by parents increase the likelihood of teenagers to become bullies.

B) Physical punishment has a particularly negative impact on girls, whereas psychological aggression by predicts bullying in boys.

C) Good humor used by parents is often misunderstood by children as a control mechanism and results in bullying behavior.

D) Affection and promotion of autonomy play a protective role against aggressive behavior and bullying.

Answer: C

Good humor, along with affection, promotion of autonomy, and good communication all are parenting styles that play a protective role against children developing aggressive and bullying behavior. However, bad humor, lower promotion of autonomy, greater behavioral control and lack of affection and communication are all negative parenting styles that promote aggression in children.

Data show that physical punishment in girls is particularly associated with the development of aggressive behavior, whereas psychological aggression used on boys predicts bullying behavior.

Source

Gomez-Ortiz O, Romera EM, Ortega-Ruiz R. Parenting styles and bullying. The mediating role of parental psychological aggression and physical punishment. Child Abuse & Neglect 2016;51:132-143.

5. Children learn to become bullies mainly through their families.

True

False

Answer: False

A number of theoretical frameworks propose that there are both systemic and individual factors involved in the development of bullying behavior. The influence of the family system is one of several systems proposed as influencing bullying. In this system, members of a family interact with each other in complex ways that influence the way each family member behaves outside the family structure.

Other theoretical systems that may influence bullying behavior include social-ecological theory (individual behavior is shaped by a number of systems interacting together, including family, peers, school, community and culture) and group socialization therapy (within-group and between-group processes in groups influence individual behavior).

Theories of the individual factors that affect bullying include developmental psychopathology theory (development is promoted or undermined by adaptive and maladaptive functions and behaviors), genetics (influence of genetics along with environmental contributions to bullying), resource control theory (how well individuals can successfully access social, informational, or material resources to gain social dominance), and social-cognitive theory (individual’s behavior is motivated by the interaction of social, cognitive, emotional and moral processing).

Source

Thomas HJ, Connor JP, Scott JG. Why do children and adolescents bully their peers? A critical review of key theoretical frameworks. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2018;53:437:451.

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