by John W. Fleeker, LMFT at Turn-About Ranch

Bullying affects both victim and offender. In recent years we have seen extreme examples of bullying involved in school violence, such as Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Many different scientific studies indicate that most children have been victims of bullying in school, and that the children who tend to be bullies also tend to have a diagnosis of ADHD, and/or anxiety and depressive disorders. This is not to say that if you have a child that has been diagnosed with ADHD that he or she will become a bully, but simply that a higher percentage of bullies have ADHD. This article will explore the connections to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and school bullying.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is described in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, as a “persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development” (APA, 1994, pg 78). The general criteria is that the symptoms must have been present for several years and caused problems either at home, school or work that interrupt normal development in a person’s social, academic, or employment environment. A person with ADHD may have trouble sitting still or concentrating. Teenagers with ADHD may seem more restless, and have problems following rules and engaging in normal activities. Psychotropic medications such as Ritalin, Adderal, or others are generally prescribed to control behaviors. In my experience, it is also helpful for parents and school personnel to help such children with transitions and to set up the teen’s schedules to minimize anxiety.

Children who are bullies or their victims come from many types of backgrounds; nevertheless, a higher percentage in both groups has ADHD. Characteristics of bullies as described by an American Psychological Association press release are ” impulsive, easily frustrated, dominant in personality, and difficulty conforming to rules, viewing violence positively and more likely to have friends who are bullies” (APA, 2003, 1). It seems that because children with ADHD tend to have difficulties learning and building social relationships, this may increase the likelihood of behavior problems such as drug and alcohol abuse and bullying. Researchers Gill Salmon, Anthony James, Elizabeth Cassidy, and Auxiliadora M. Javoloyes concluded that bullies in their study (2000) enter outpatient therapy for conduct behaviors, but victims of bullies tend to enter treatment for depression. The bullies in this study tended to be also diagnosed with ADHD. The link between bullying and ADHD is the frustration and impulsivity that interferes with natural academic progress. Youths with ADHD tend to disrupt the classroom and often struggle to keep up with their peers academically; these problems often cause them to feel isolated and frustrated. These students are often picked upon by their peers because they are different. Later they may later become aggressive and practice bullying in an attempt to deal with their feelings.

The best approach to make sure that a youth with ADHD isn’t a bully or a victim of a bully seems to a partnership between school and parents as an attempt to best meet the needs of the student. The best treatment is a combination of medication and family counseling to develop a structure that sets clear limits to behaviors and to teach coping skills for the frustration, impulsivity, and isolation that a youth with ADHD may face. Many schools have developed anti-bullying strategies that include prevention workshops and improved communication between parents and teachers. Some schools enforce very strict consequences for bullying. Many state legislatures have passed new laws to help stop bullying. However, the first step is for teachers and parents to work together to help children with ADHD to better meet their academic and social needs.


  • American Psychological Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistic manual of mental disorders, 4th Ed. American Psychological Association, Washington DC
  • American Psychological Association (2005). Bullying.
  • Gill, Salmon, James, Anthony, Cassidy, Elizabeth Lisheen, and Javaloyes, M. Auxiliadora. (2000). Bullying a review: Presentations to an adolescent psychiatric service within a school for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol 5. (4), October 2000, pp. 563-579