Even popular teens struggle with being bullied
It would seem that popular kids stay fairly safe from bullying. A new study from the University of California, Davis, however, says otherwise. This highly coveted status makes these adolescents even greater targets for bullying and the consequences they suffer more severe.
The study, published in the April edition of the journal American Sociological Review, found that the higher teens climbed up their school’s social ladder, the greater the risk of being bullied. However, when and if they reached the very top, then the risk was greatly reduced.
Study results revealed that among both male and female participants, if a teen who was at the midlevel of the social hierarchy moved up the ladder, to say the 95th percentile, the likelihood of that student being bullied by other students jumps by more than 25 percent.
“But once students reach the very peak of the school hierarchy—above the 95th percentile—the likelihood of being victimized plummets,” said study co-author Robert Faris in a statement.
“If status were money, they would be like Bill Gates—their positions are secure. They don’t need to torment their peers in an effort to climb up the social ladder—a tactic commonly used among those battling for position—because they are already at the top, and they aren’t being victimized because they are out of reach and have no rivals,” explained Faris, an associate professor of sociology at UC Davis.
While the top-tier popular set aren’t as likely to be bullied, in the rare instances when they are, negative consequences become greatly magnified. The reason? Faris said they may feel as if they have more to lose since they worked so hard to achieve their social standing. “Another possibility is that more popular students are more unsuspecting victims than those on the periphery, and therefore react particularly strongly,” he said.
Study participants included 4,000 youths in social networks within three North Carolina counties. Faris said that similar results were found among students at an elite high school in a wealthy suburb of New York City and the pattern is a common one, even in other contexts. Participants from 19 schools in grades eight through 10 were surveyed and asked to name five of their closest friends. The results allowed researchers to determine who popular students were and who the bullied victims were based on where they fell within their social network.
Faris said that he hoped the study would make community members such as parents, educators and policymakers aware that bullying victims don’t necessarily have to have obvious stigmas.
“To reduce bullying, it may be useful for schools to dedicate more attention and resources to deemphasizing social status hierarchies, perhaps by fostering a greater diversity of activities that promote a variety of interest-based friendship groups and not celebrating one activity—such as basketball or football—over any other,” he said.
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