When 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.
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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