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The Boy Bully Versus the Girl Bully
Home » Parenting Advice » The Boy Bully Versus the Girl Bully

by James T. Craig, PhD, PLP, LMHP

tags: Bully, Crisis, Education, Kids and Teens in Crisis, Tweens

The Boy Bully Versus the Girl Bully

Bullying defies gender. Both boys and girls can become bullies, and research suggests that boys and girls bully at a similar frequency. But what you might not know is that studies reveal distinct differences in how boys bully versus how girls bully.

Research shows that boys experience more frequent bullying than girls, and boys are more likely to experience physical forms of victimization, including:

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • Physical intimidation

Girls are less likely to experience physical aggression but are more likely to engage in verbal and relational types of bullying behaviors, such as:

  • Verbal assaults, name-calling, being publicly criticized
  • Being ostracized or leaving peers out on purpose
  • Spreading rumors or gossiping in order to undermine the status or reputation of a peer

How Bullies Evolve

In elementary school, boy bullying is typically aimed at ​gaining control of resources that children compete for—such as being first in line or first to access playground equipment—and control over others. Boys are more likely to use straightforward and direct actions, such as pushing another child out of the way or making threats to win control.

In older boys, bullying starts to align more closely with girl bullying. Boys tend to drop the overt, physically aggressive behaviors because they've been caught by adults and punished for such behavior. Instead, boys begin to use more relational bullying tactics that are more easily hidden from adults and thus less risky. 

Girls, although also interested in control, tend to use indirect strategies to undermine the status of their victims by making them less appealing and thus less threatening to the bully's position as leader of the peer group.

In both boys and girls, bullying behavior is reinforced when peers respond favorably to the bully, such as laughing at a mean joke or joining in on teasing.

Stopping and Preventing Bullies

Boy bullying is more likely to change when strong and consistent consequences for bullying behaviors are used. Since girls use more covert bullying tactics, which are more difficult for adults to detect, teachers and parents often struggle to know when and how to intervene.   

Bully-proofing girls (or boys who are the targets of relational bullying) may be much more about teaching them the qualities of good and bad friendships, as well as coaching them on how to use prosocial skills, such as maintaining good personal hygiene, sharing, giving positive feedback, acknowledging feedback from peers, and offering help. These skills can be used to make friends and enhance their reputation among peers.

For both boys and girls, social skills that are important to making friends without being aggressive are acquired at a younger age than many parents realize, so it's important to pay close attention to how children interact with peers as early as age 2. 

Because boys and girls tend to bully differently, it's important for adults to learn to identify those differences. Otherwise, bullying can go unnoticed, the consequences become more significant, and the victim may begin to feel more alone. This is especially true for girls. For any child, though, the longer bullying continues, the more severe the response may be, and the longer it will take to overcome the bullying. 

For more content on bullying, including tools to use at home and conversation starters, visit our bullying guide​.