Bullying: How to Identify and Address Peer Aggression

Bullying, or peer aggression, is a problem affecting youth worldwide and is defined as any behavior directed at peers which is intended to cause harm. Bullying can be verbal or physical in nature and can cause isolation from peers, academic difficulties and behavior problems.

Risk factors for bullying

Given the widespread nature of bullying and the problems it causes, researchers have identified risk factors that are common in children who bully others. They have identified risk factors in both the home and in social settings.

  • Risk factors at home - Children who bully others may experience marriage problems and frequent aggression, such as domestic violence, at home. Additionally, parents of children who bully may be less involved in their lives, reject them or their feelings, use physical punishment or inconsistent discipline.
  • Social/school settings - Children who are rejected or victimized by peers can display increased aggression and may spend time with delinquent peers, worsening the behaviors.

Consequences of bullying

Children who bully others often face the following:

  • Aggressive youth are often disliked by their nonaggressive peers. This may cause them to seek friendships with other aggressive children, worsening their behavior.
  • Aggressive youth often do poorly in school and face consequences such as detention, suspension and expulsion.
  • Those who bully may be suffering from a disorder, such as depression, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Aggressive behavior during childhood can lead to negative behaviors as adults, including criminal behavior, poor marital relations and employment problems.

Addressing aggressive behavior in children

Children with aggressive behavior often benefit from adult intervention. Many may need help in identifying their problems and triggers and developing skills to manage their behaviors. Adults and professionals in the lives of these children can help in several ways:

  • Parents and other adults in the lives of these children can create an individualized program for each child; there is no one-size-fits-all model. Professionals can assist with recognizing the diverse forms of aggression and targeting the best approach for each child.
  • Parents and other adults can put increased monitoring in place, not only to protect other children, but to help identify triggers and address specifics with the aggressive child.
  • School-based programs to address behaviors should involve school personnel, as well as families. A program should outline clear guidelines and actions to the student and all involved. They should also provide for educational opportunities, instead of focusing solely on removing aggressive students from the classroom.
  • If there are problems such as marital problems or domestic violence at home, parents are encouraged to seek appropriate help. Family counseling is available at no cost and can be arranged by visiting Military OneSource online or calling 800-342-9647.

It is important to address aggressive behaviors at a young age and provide children with appropriate responses when they are young. Teaching coping and social skills to aggressive children can help them grow into successful and well-adjusted adults. For more information on bullying, visit Military OneSource.

Staff at the University of Arizona contributed to the content of this article.


Find programs and services at your local installation.

View a directory of installations

Service members, family members, surviving family members, service providers and leaders rely on Military OneSource for policy, procedures, timely articles, cutting-edge social media tools and support. All in one place, empowering our military community.