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10 Reasons Why Kids Are Bullied

Discover the top 10 ways bullies choose their targets


Updated June 11, 2014

Two girls (12-13) bullying other school girl (10-11), differential focus
Chris Whitehead/Digital Vision/Getty Images

When it comes to understanding why bullies target specific kids, it’s important to move past the usual stereotypes. As a society, kids have been taught that weak, overweight or socially challenged individuals are worthy of scorn and disregard. As a result, they feel free to bully anyone who falls into these categories.

People also wrongly believe targets of bullying somehow bring bullying on themselves. Their believe if the targets were stronger or different in some way then they wouldn’t be bullied. They also believe that if targets want to be accepted by society and free from bullying they should change.

Meanwhile, other people wrongly assume that targets deserve the bullying. They feel that targets are too sensitive, unstable or whiners and that if they were stronger they wouldn’t be bullied.

But in reality the problem doesn’t lie with the victims of bullying. Anyone can be a target of bullying. In fact, bullying has more to do with the choice of the bully and less to do with some defect in the target. And, the responsibility for bullying always lies with the bully. So, why are individuals bullied?

There are a variety of reasons why bullies target some people including everything from personality characteristics to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here are some common characteristics that can lead to bullying.

Targets may be good at what they do. A lot of times kids will be bullied because they get a lot of positive attention for something. This could be everything from excelling in sports, making the cheerleading squad or getting the editor’s position on the school newspaper. Bullies target these students because they either feel inferior or they worry that their abilities are being overshadowed by the target’s abilities.

Targets may be intelligent, determined and creative. At school, they may be the students that go that extra mile on schoolwork. Or, they learn very quickly and seem to be moving quicker through projects and assignments than other students. Gifted students typically fall into this category and are often targeted for being smart.

Targets may have personal vulnerabilities. Children who are introverted, anxious or submissive are more likely to be bullied than kids who are extroverted and assertive. In fact, some researchers believe that kids who lack self-esteem and security may attract kids who are prone to bully. Finally, there’s also some evidence indicating that kids suffering from depression or stress-related conditions may also be more likely to be bullied.

Targets may have few or no friends. Many victims of bullying tend to have fewer friends than children who do not experience bullying. What’s more, they may be rejected for some reason by their peers and usually spend lunch and recess alone. Because this tendency to be alone begins before these kids become targets, parents and other adults can help prevent bullying in these kids’ lives by helping them develop friendships.

Targets may be popular or well liked. Sometimes bullies target popular or well-liked children because of the threat they pose to the bully. Mean girls are especially likely to target another girl who threatens her status or social standing.

Targets have physical features that attract attention. Whether a target is short or tall, fat or thin bullies can target them. Almost any type of physical characteristic that is different or unique can attract the attention of bullies including wearing glasses, having acne, having a large nose or having ears that stick out.

Targets have an illness or disability. Oftentimes, bullies target special needs children. This can include children who have Asperger’s, autism, ADHD, dyslexia or any other condition that sets them apart. What’s more, kids with conditions like food allergies, asthma, down’s syndrome and other conditions also can be targeted by bullies.

Targets have a different sexual orientation. More often than not, kids are bullied for being gay. In fact, some of the most brutal bullying incidents have involved children who are bullied for their sexual orientation.

Targets have different religious or cultural beliefs. One example of bullying because of religious or cultural beliefs includes the treatment Muslim students received after the 9/11 tragedy. But any student can be bullied for their religious beliefs. Both Christian students and Jewish students are often ridiculed for their beliefs and practices as well.

Targets belong to a different racial group. Sometimes kids will bully others because they are of a different race. For instance, Caucasian students may single out African-American students and bully them. Or African-American students may single out Caucasian students and bully them. It happens with all races and in all directions. No race is exempt from being bullied and no race is exempt from having bullies.

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