Why does bullying happen?

Any student, through no fault of their own, may be a target of bullying.

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Bullying is a relationship problem

Students are bullied for lots of reasons. Sometimes they are bullied because they are different, or because they are clever or popular. It can be caused by differences in race, sexuality, religion, disabilities and abilities, weight, height or anything that creates a difference between one child and another. At other times they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Students who bully sometimes have problems and are unhappy. They may be trying to make up for a lack of attention, power or love in their own lives; by bullying, they try to get these in their own lives. These students need to feel powerful and seem to enjoy harming others. They often do not understand the feelings of the person they bully.

Those who persistently bully often do so in order to dominate others and improve their own social status. Bullying often comes from a belief that it's okay to act that way. Sometimes they don't even know that what they are doing is bullying behaviour, or they don't understand how much hurt and anxiety they cause.

Some common reasons why someone may bully others

  • To gain a sense of power among their classmates.
  • To get attention or become popular.
  • They are scared, so they try to scare others to hide their feelings.
  • They are unhappy and take it out on others.
  • They are being bullied themselves.
  • To get things they want.
  • To copy someone they admire.
  • To make themselves feel better when they are feeling bad about themselves or jealous of someone else.
  • Because they feel that another person is becoming more popular than they are in their group.
  • They hope to use it as a way to make people be their friend.

While bullying can happen to any student, it is know that some are more likely than others to be bullied. Vulnerable groups include students with disabilities or special educational needs, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) students and those perceived to be LGBTI, and students of a culture, race or religion that differs from the main culture, race or religion at the school.


Bullying sometimes involves students commenting on and judging other student's personal attributes and how they are different. These negative comments can relate to:

  • appearance and weight
  • ability or disability
  • gender, sex and sexuality
  • culture, race and religion
  • socio-economic status.

This type of bullying is linked to prejudices that students learn from their family group and their wider social community about the value of diversity in the community.

Fitting in 

There are social norms within groups of students and also the whole school. The school's norms are modelled by the school staff and other adults in the broader community, including parents.

Students who 'stand out' as different from the norms within their peer group are most likely to be bullied. Students can use bullying as a way to enforce group norms about how to appear and behave.

Student group norms and views about which students are of 'greater' social standing come from society's values about power and status. This process happens as children and young people absorb and copy the norms, values and prejudices of their school and their wider community.