Although bullies are often looked at as simply out of control children, a significant number of children use aggression in their everyday lives. There are many characteristics that define these dominant children as bullies.
Rigby (1993) specifically defines bullies as those having an aggressive personality pattern, with the tendency to react aggressively in a variety of situations. They also tend to have an inability to control their inhibitions against aggressive tendencies and often have a positive attitude toward violence. Power, Dyson and Wozniak (1997) note that, physically, aggressors tend to be older and stronger than their peers.
As well as personality and physics, family situations are influential on a child’s aggression. Perren (2005) suggests that families of bullies frequently have little closeness and unity, as well as being focused on power over one another. These children often report more negative family functioning than non-bullies. Because of the lack of parental and family support, many adolescents use bullying as a form of control and attention.
These children do not know the correct form of asking for attention, love and support from others, including their peers. Brown (1986) suggests that this is often a response to family situations, as well as peer pressure. A portion of these children lack any control in their lives, except for the control they place on others.
School is an additional environment where adolescent bullies may struggle to obtain control. Pellegrini (2000) notes that these adolescent bullies are at risk for a variety of school-related and psychosocial problems that can be detrimental, both physically and emotionally.
As one can imagine, the peer pressure adolescents face on a day-to-day basis is expanded exponentially when placed in a school setting. There is a similar impact in regards to bullying. Adolescents may feel peer pressure to bully, especially in school settings, in order to obtain control in a complex social environment.
A victim is often a person who suffers from destructive acts, either emotionally or physically. Many believe that victims are mostly random, undeserving people that were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, research has come to find that victims quite often find themselves in the same situation over and over again. There are possible explanations for victims and their tendency to be victimized. Primarily, victims tend to be young and smaller physically.
In addition, the home environment plays an important role in a victim’s life. Parental abuse or misconduct may leave a child with no knowledge of proper relationships. Perren (2005) states that families of male victims seem to be overly protective and close, while the families of female victims lean toward unhealthy emotional abuse. Just as with bullies, a lack of family support can leave a child with deeper psychosocial problems that may manifest themselves in social environments, predicting their involvement in victimizing activities.
The school environment is just as important as the home life in the development of victims. In terms of peers, Perren finds that limited popularity and social networks can be a precursor for victimization in an adolescent social setting. Limited support from peers and adults could show a child that bullying is not only right, but also admirable. The adolescents who are bullied feel as though the whole world is against them.
A Combination of Bully and Victim Characteristics
It is important to consider that bullies and victims are not all that different. In fact, in many cases they are the same person. Peskin et al. (2006) identifies bully-victims as those who are both bullied by others and bully others. She suggests that they are more likely to be male. Many times children find that when they are lacking something essential in one environment, they will over-compensate in another. Quite often, children may be victims at home and a bully at school.
It may be even more complicated than simply their environment. A child could have been a victim all through childhood and when emerging into adolescence or adulthood decides it is time to take control, control over others. Perren (2005) states that research has found that children who bully others, but are also bullied themselves form a sub-group that is called aggressive victims, proactive victims or bully-victims.
However, the research also states that these sub-groups often overlap in terms of bullying. Rigby (1993) proposes that the tendency to bully others and the tendency to be victimized by other are not polar opposites. His findings also indicate that the predisposition to bully others and to be victimized can possibly be correlated. It is important to realize that although bullies and victims are on the opposite ends of the spectrum, they really are not all that different.