When the Popular Kid Gets Bullied

What to Do When Your Popular Child Gets BulliedWhen you think about a kid who’s getting bullied, chances are you picture a teenage boy with clunky glasses and cystic acne, or maybe a 7th grade girl whose nose is buried in a book rather than a smartphone. 

In other words, you probably picture the kids who don’t have tons of friends.

So what happens when the one being bullied is actually the guy with the big social circle, or the girl who just last week was adored by almost everyone at middle school? 

Sociologists have recently found that while isolated students are indeed the targets of bullying, as we might imagine, the likelihood of suffering from severe, aggressive bullying actually increases as a student becomes more popular.

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The study, which was published in the American Sociological Review, examined students and their friendships at 19 middle and high schools in North Carolina, and ultimately determined that only those teenagers at the very peak of the school’s social pyramid—those in the top five percent—were relatively safe from bullying peers. 

Indeed, those adolescents who were attempting to climb the social ladder were at an increased risk for victimization, probably because they became viewed as threats to others trying to do the same.

What’s more, the researchers emphasize that the effects of bullying can be amplified in kids who start out as relatively popular, rather than isolated, since they have “farther to fall.” The feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger are often heightened in these teenagers, and friendships that once seemed strong can quickly crumble.

I think it’s really important for parents to learn about this research because many of the bullying stories that make the news focus on marginalized students.

But we have to remember that bullying victims can come in many shapes, sizes, faces, and social statuses. Tweet this!

In other words, don’t assume a teen is immune just because he seems well-liked or because she’s always invited to the mall. Popularity isn’t always a cloak of protection against bullying; indeed, it can be exactly the opposite.

Simply being aware of that fact can help parents whose well-liked child ends up getting bullied. Then you can try some of the following tactics to help:

  • When you child opens up to you about the bullying, listen calmly and offer support. They might feel embarrassed or ashamed about the situation, feeling that it’s somehow their fault. Reassure them that it isn’t.
  • Determine the seriousness of the situation. Is it mostly standard teasing? Or are there threats involved? Does it warrant a discussion with school officials or the bully’s parents? This will vary greatly depending on the severity of the bullying.
  • Talk to your child about possible strategies they can employ when faced with the bully—ones that don’t involve retaliation, tempting as though it might be. This could include avoiding the bully when possible, using the “buddy system” so your child is with a trusted friend in the bully’s presence, killing them with kindness, or simply walking away or ignoring the bully.
  • Recognize and acknowledge your child’s pain. Whether she’s in third grade or ninth, bullying can cause deep wounds—even when your child has plenty of friends and popularity.
  • If cyber bullying is involved, encourage your child to show you any evidence he/she has saved, and then be sure to keep that documentation should authorities need to become involved. Also encourage your child to block the bully online if possible, and report him/her to the appropriate site’s moderators.

Do you think bullying is a problem among popular kids too? 

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34 responses to “When the Popular Kid Gets Bullied”

  1. Research like this makes me glad that I graduated high school before social networks, Youtube and the like. Bullying has existed forever but at least back then it was confined to direct confrontation and nasty notes – not that those can’t hurt. There are just so many more ways for kids to be bullied these days, which probably opens up more kids along the social ladder to being bullied.

    • I agree, the fact that there are so many different ways for kids to be bullied has certainly made it more common and more dangerous.

  2. My sister is a middle school counselor and says that social media is the source of 90% of the issues she deals with. Really makes me think how I can try and educate and protect my 11yo as he enters middle school this fall. I confess I’m at a loss usually!

    • Wow I didn’t know that Katy. Makes me want to not have my kids on social media til college lol.

      And Katie, I totally agree that popular or “climbing popular” kids aren’t immune to bullying. Thankfully I was never bullied in high school. But elementary and middle school was a little different. I was never bullied outright, but the popular girls (who were probably threatened like you said) would try to isolate others from me.

      I think the biggest thing that kept me from being further bullied or from losing those friends was confidence. I really didn’t care what that popular girl or girls thought of me, and I think it showed. It’s sort of like, hold your ground instead of grovel at their feet, and you’ll keep bullies away.

  3. Studies like this make me scratch my head. I wonder if people have been in schools, observed, listened, asked relevant questions, and let go of any preconceptions.

    Bullying is bullying. Gender, height, weight, socioeconomic status, GPA, etc aside, all of which it doesn’t know, exists.

  4. I admit that I don’t think much about bullying these days. My kids are so little and my daughter is heading to a kindergarten where the class is small and everyone calls each other ‘friend.’ But this is a scary wake up call. Nobody is safe from bullying.

  5. I don’t think about it a lot yet, but with Scarlet starting kindergarten soon, it’s on my mind.
    Sadly, I think few kids are exempt from bullying.
    In my case, I had a really sassy mouth and four popular siblings so I wasn’t bullied because people feared my family.
    However, I worry. Cassidy had some experiences that were.. really scary.

    • I never had much of a problem with bullying either, but I do think that in today’s world it’s getting more prevalent and more aggressive. Very scary.

  6. Great info! I haven’t heard information from this standpoint before. This is really interesting. It makes sense to me though. As a kid growing up, I wasn’t one of the “popular” kids. I had friends and got along with the popular kids, but I had no interest in climbing any social ladder. It always seemed like the ones who weren’t happy with where they were at socially and desired to be more popular were more lonely than if they had just been satisfied with their real (albeit less popular) friends. It seemed to convey a sense of unhappiness in your own skin, at least to me.

    It’s just a good reminder that all kids are at risk. Confident, well-rounded kids that have friends and seem happy aren’t safe from bullying either. I reiterate what other readers have said: I am SO glad I never had to deal with the constant availability that comes with twitter, Facebook, etc. Because of smartphones kids are always accessible. Home isn’t a safe place like it used to be for us. They can bullied from anywhere at any time.

    • Social media really does make it tough to avoid the bullies; now they can come to you much more easily. And I think you’re right about climbing the social ladder. Doing so doesn’t bring kids the fulfillment they’re looking for.

  7. Being bullied..oy vey. I remember at 16 driving with my mom to pick my 8 year old sister up from school only to see her being kicked while she was against a tree by another girl. She got in the car and when I asked why she was letting that girl kick her she said they were “playing.” I think whether a kid is popular v. unpopular is a mere distraction from the larger issue being that bullying is often made a spectacle for other kids to watch and it’s important for popular/unpopular bystanders to stand up to the offenders. .

    • That’s a really great point, Rebecca! I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms, but it makes perfect sense. We need to empower all kids to stand up to those doing the bullying.

  8. While I was growing up, I was the one who was bullied (and I was never popular). In fact, it was the popular kids who DID the bullying.

    I can see how this would shift… and how bullies would want to “take down” the popular kids.

    Interesting read and important to recognize that all kids are at risk of being bullied.

    Thanks so much for sharing (and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop)!

    Wishing you a lovely day.

  9. I was bullied a fair amount when I was younger. It was mainly the popular kids who did the bullying, or those who wanted to move into the popular kid ranks. But I think even within those ranks, there is always someone who wants to move over another or who is perhaps a little insecure about their status and wants to make sure they are secure. At least before, you could go home and get away from it. Now with social media, it’s hard for kids to be free of it. Thankfully, things get so much better after high school. But I know junior high and high school seems like forever to some.

  10. I am doing a paper on bullying. Bullying has change and it claims everyone. No longer are kids bullied in just school, but online, social media, chat rooms. It has definitely taken on a new form.

  11. I can image that the bullying of popular kids is “more damaging”, like you said because they have further to fall. Bullying is such a scary thing and thankfully schools are opening their eyes to the danger of it. Kids can be so mean, and the old saying of “boys will be boys” or “girls are catty” are not acceptable excuses – these things need to be stopped – at any level.

  12. So true, the politics of the school hall are more complicated than we think. That’s why all kids need attention with regard to any bullying episodes. Great post!

  13. This makes perfect sense to me Katie. I am so glad you shared this… because we need to address bullying that attacks EVERYONE. The more exposure kids have with other kids- the higher the risk of encountering bullies. Many “unpopular’ kids live ‘under the radar’ or all the social circles and pressures… the ones in the spotlight are the more vulnerable for ‘take down’.

    Either way? Its atrocious.

  14. To be honest I hadn’t really thought about whether popular children get bullies or not. Bullying is a despicable thing to do to anyone.

    At the end of the day we are animals and popular/stronger people will always pose a threat to other popular/stronger people and if those people don’t have an ounce of empathy in their body then they will become bullies.

    Don’t for a moment think that bullying is any worse for some children/people than it is for others, it always hurts and when done consistently will reduce anyone to a shadow of their former self.

    An interesting post. I just popped over from #SHINEbloghop

    • AMEN, Debbie! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion. I completely agree that bullying is a terrible thing for anyone and everyone.

  15. This is a very helpful post. I clicked over because my son has experienced quite a lot of bullying and it’s just a hot button issue for me. He’s definitely in the “marginalized” category, but it never really occurred to me that the popular kids might be targeted too. I guess it’s just a nasty part of human nature to want to pull other people down if they are getting too successful, but I can see why it would be more difficult for the popular kids because they probably measure a lot of their self-worth by the level of their popularity. I think people just need to learn to be kind to everyone, and if you can’t at least manage to be kind, at least just keep on walking. It baffles me that people (kids or adults) don’t have anything better to do than to deliberately make someone else miserable. #SITSSharefest

    • Agreed – people of all ages and backgrounds need to start treating each other with basic respect and kindness. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  16. Glad I found this post. I have started an article about this bc I thought I was the only one!! My daughter is the popular, cheerleader who has developed beyond her age (5’7 at age 12) and has faced extreme bullying. It almost our generation is teaching our kids to root against other kids, even the best of friends. If someone is better at something or prettier or gets more attention from the opposite sex~ lets bring them down! So sad to me. I have definitely found that the socially awkward kids in middle school have become the bullies. Maybe they were bullied and decided the way to stop it was to become the bully. I just don’t know. I know this sounds really snotty and I do not mean for it to be. Its just my truth. Social media plays an ugly part also. If your child is on Ask.com I would suggest you remove is ASAP. It is a site where kids can say anything they want about other kids anonymously and tear them to shreds with no accountability. Prepare for middle school….its a doozie!!!

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Laura. I’m so sorry your daughter is going through this. How terrible! I’m in utter shock about the website you mentioned; it makes my heart ache to think of the poor kids being teared apart there.

  17. What a thoughtful post and a great reminder as my daughter heads into the treacherous middle school years. It was hard enough when I went through it, and I’m terrified of the twists and turns it will take with my girls and social media.

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