Is Bullying Behavior Due to Nurture or Nature?

Bullying has become a national epidemic with nearly forty percent of youths admitting to bullying at one time or another. But new research shows that parental behaviors, attitudes and mental health can all influence a child’s potential for bullying. Most parents of children who have been victims of bullying often ask what they can do to protect their children from such harassment. However, new research suggests that the real question to address is how a parent can prevent their child from bullying other children.

Rashmi Shetgiri, MD, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center, Dallas, and colleagues conducted a survey that identified trends in bullying over a four-year period. They examined the amount of bullying that was reported, and also the additional factors that influenced the rate of bullying. They discovered that the number of children who bullied others rose from 23 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2007. Reasons cited for the increase were feelings of neglect or anger felt by the children from their parents. Also, emotional, behavioral and developmental issues were common among children who bullied. And children who reported a mother with mental health challenges showed more potential for becoming a bully.

Dr. Shetgiri believes that effective and healthy communication between parents and children is a vital component to reducing these trends. Additionally, most of the children who were not bullies reported that their parents knew most of their closest friends. In a recent article, Dr. Shetgiri offered advice to parents of bullies. “Targeting interventions to decrease these persistent risk factors and increase the persistent protective factors could lead to decreased bullying,” she said. Parents “also can find effective ways to manage any feelings of anger toward their child and can work with health care providers to make sure any emotional or behavioral concerns they have about their child, as well as their own mental health, are addressed.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Ben R

    May 3rd, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    I don’t think bullying comes from nature…If a child is behaving in a volatile manner it is because he or she is subjected to unfavorable things,which may include parental attitude,people around the child and other things…Children do not come into this world with knowledge of bullying but they learn it here…

  • Penny Rayas

    May 3rd, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    I am glad to see reseach that validates what I see in my practice when I work with children. I have noticed that children who bully others are externilizing anger and feel pretty powerless themselves. Many of the children I work with see their parents attention negative or possitive as a reward. The behavior can be reduce and eventually eliminated by giving the child possitive attention and teaching children how to express their feeling in a positive way. Also groups with peers in a school setting work wonders. I have also noticed that expressing anger in a violent way is learned and can be replaced by healty behavior

  • SARA

    May 4th, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    I would be one of those people who thinks that bullying is probably a little bit of both. I do happen to think that there are some peope who are naturally born with a propensity toward being mean and treating others badly. And unfortunately for many of these same people this is fed into at home and encouraged. So I do think that nature and nurture both have some influence here. That does not mean that this cannot be dealt with and veen overcome but I do think that for some there is always a tougher hill to climb to overcome those challenges.

  • Lolita

    May 10th, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    “Is Bullying Behavior Due to Nurture or Nature?” Neither, it’s a lack of nurture. Kids that bully often have completely inept parents who don’t teach them about right and wrong, and just spoil them and/or don’t do a thing when they turn into little tyrants. If you’re going to breed, look after your young! Wild animals do it better than a lot of human beings do now.

  • Graham

    May 10th, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    @ Lolita, that’s the most common thing that’s at the root of bullying: deadbeat and useless parents who can’t properly raise children. It’s not easy to raise a kid but it takes little effort at all to raise a bad one. Just give ’em no boundaries and don’t wonder where they are, who they are with or what they are doing.

  • Les

    May 11th, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    I think it’s nature. Whatever the reason, it needs to be eradicated. One fortuitous day a bully will turn a corner and find he’s the one being beaten up because that little kid he picked on had a big brother. If that doesn’t stop him, nothing will.

  • Yvonne

    May 11th, 2011 at 8:13 PM

    @Les- That’s what happens! Many years ago I told my big brother that a high school kid punched me in the face for no reason once outside my house. He asked completely deadpan, “Where is he now?”. I told him, he left and came back with him an hour later. My brother was a year older than him and knew who he was. The boy that hit me had the biggest bruise on his face I had ever seen. He apologized and never set foot on my street nor caused any trouble again that I know of.

  • Dan

    May 12th, 2011 at 7:26 PM

    Children mimic what they see and what is done to them. If the parents don’t take that bull by the horns right away and deal with their child bullying, then life will be harder down the line for them all. Once that child grows up, their personality is more or less set rigid is it not? These are the ones that turn into workplace bullies I bet.

  • Zoe

    May 12th, 2011 at 8:56 PM

    I certainly hope “effective and healthy communication” involves my hand and their butts. If my kids were bullies, I would publicly humiliate them in the street with a spanking in front of all the neighborhood kids and make them apologize to the children they picked on. I was bullied myself when I was small and abhor bullying.

  • Yolanda

    May 14th, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    @Zoe I probably wouldn’t go that far, but my usual threat of “Christmas is cancelled” would be made good for once. Nothing scares a kid straight faster than the thought of not getting anything for their Christmas or birthday.

  • ash

    March 30th, 2015 at 7:09 PM

    Well I think its both because some people are born with impulses when the bully is born with a loving family they’re more manipulative because they manipulated their parents and the bullies that are nurtured are raised badly,neglected and abuse the bullies that are nurtured seem to be more aggressive and less manipulative

  • ash

    March 30th, 2015 at 7:16 PM

    I think its both because the bullies who was born might have brain abnormalities that destroys their empathy the bullies Tha were nurtured were raised by abusive parents,absent parent,delinquent brothers and sisters and divorced parents that causes anger and hatred towards their parents so they take their frustration out on someone weaker Than them

  • Amber

    May 2nd, 2017 at 10:29 PM

    I find it painful that people think anger and violence is the correct and effective way to approach bullying. What a great way to send a kid mixed messages. You tell them that being a bully is wrong by being a bully to them. I’m upset at you so I’m going to get physical because you got angry and was violent towards a classmate… you NOT see the connection? Kids learn a lot of their behaviors by how they’re treated and their interactions at home. so they’re in a situation and need to think, what do i see mom or dad do when they feel this way? Oh, when i upset them i get beat up so that MUST be the answer. DUH people. Its not rocket science

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