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Why Kids Bully: Because They’re Popular

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Mean kids, mothers tell their wounded young, behave that way because they have unhappy home lives, or feel inadequate, or don’t have enough friends or because they somehow lack empathy. But a new study suggests some mean kids actually behave that way simply because they can.

Contrary to accepted ruffian-scholarship, the more popular a middle- or high-school kid becomes, the more central to the social network of the school, the more aggressive the behavior he or she engages in. At least, that was the case in North Carolina, where students from 19 middle and high schools were studied for 4.5 years by researchers at the University of California-Davis.

Authors Robert Faris and Diane Felmlee interviewed public-school kids seven times over the course of their study, starting when the students were in grades 6, 7 and 8. They asked the students to name their friends and used the data to create friendship maps. They then asked the kids who was unkind to them and whom they picked on, and mapped out the pathways of aggression. (More on Time.com: The Tricky Politics of Tween Bullying)

What they found was that only one-third of the students engaged in any bullying at all — physical force, taunts or gossip-spreading — but those who were moving up the school popularity chain bullied more as they went higher. Only when kids reached the very top 2% of the school’s social hierarchy or fell into the bottom 2% did their behavior change; these kids were the least aggressive.

“Seemingly normal well-adjusted kids can be aggressive,” says Faris, whose results are published in the new issue of the American Sociological Review. “We found that status increases aggression.”

While the authors are not ruling out psychological or background influences as underlying causes of the bullying, they believe that popularity is at least as important. “It’s one of the few times I can recall in social sciences where race and family background seem to make very little difference,” says Faris. “Those demographic and socioeconomic factors don’t seem to matter as much as where the kids are in the school hierarchy.” (More on Time.com: A Glimmer of Hope in a Bad-News Survey About Bullying)

Faris also found that the more kids cared about popularity, the more aggressive they were. Ironically, that’s pointless; hostile behavior did not cause rises in status. “The evidence suggests that overall aggression does not increase status,” he says. Then again, it’s not whether it works that’s important. It’s whether the kids believe it works.

Another stereotype the study jabbed at was that males and females bully differently. Boys spread gossip only marginally less often than girls did. And girls were negligibly less physically violent to each other than boys were. Gender-on-gender bullying was more prevalent among girls than boys, but boys were more likely to be hostile toward girls than the other way around.

Gender wasn’t entirely a neutral factor, however. If a girl knew a lot of boys, or a boy knew a lot of girls at a school where there wasn’t much intermingling of the sexes, those kids’ status would go up, presumably because they provided a bridge to contact with potential dates. And, yep, the “gender-bridge” kids, as the study called them, seemed to be more aggressive than others. (More on Time.com: Study: Earphone-Loving Teens Can Hear Just Fine)

If bullying is actually more of a result of hierarchy than of psychology, Faris believes there might be a more effective solution than trying to change the behavior of the bullies. (Break out the Edmund Burke.) “The majority of kids who witness this, either give it tacit approval or outright encouragement,” says Faris. “Those are the ones who give these kids their status. We need to change their minds.”

7 comments
cause99
cause99

The below paragraph, which explains how bullies see "a way in", like access to friends, or personal information, this is why social networks are making bullying such a huge problem.  This amount of connectedness is a bad idea for this reason.  In the age where everyone adds everyone to their contact lists on skype, or their friend list on other social networks, this gives a ton of main bullies a way in, and they spread the bullying.  It's sort of the concept of vampires, like the main vampire will bite other vampires, in fact I wonder if this is where the story of vampires arose.  


This is why the schools getting larger is making bullying worse, in such a large population bullies will find access to their target, larger schools promote clique behavior and this also give a main bully a way in.


Since our society is never going to give  up social networking any time soon, and most people don't realize the problem, there isn't much anyone will be able to do. 


People wonder why campaigns where they chant "stop bullying" don't work.  Using social networks where you friend everyone is the equivalent to leaving your doors unlocked at night and making a campaign where you chant, "don't rob me even though my door is unlocked".

cause99
cause99

Bullies are  predators, so they will go after someone they feel they can take down.  But that doesn't mean that person is weak.  It can mean they see a way in, or they've obtained enough personal information. Also, it can mean their target has a couple friends who the main bully feels they can infiltrate and turn into their minions and actually go along with them and help to bully their own friend!  The minion bullies aren't the main bullies, they are kids who are susceptible to the drama and excitement the main bully spreads.  They too feel badly about themselves and the main bully who wants to bully their friend has sniffed out this weakness.


So it's just really a lot of factors.

cause99
cause99

I think bullies, most of them, may have some sort of nervous system disorder or illness. One girl I know of, who continues to bully people, most people say they think she has fetal alcohol syndrome.  Maybe in some it's a genetic glitch in the nervous system.

cause99
cause99

This article is NOT correct. I know of adults who want to "be popular" on facebook, and attempt to bully other adults and end up getting immediately ignored.  I knew lots of popular girls in school, i.e. I was popular as well.  Some of them were the nicest people you could ever meet.  Others were a captial B.  In general the captial B girl, was popular but no one who actually knew her liked her.  Others who were popular and nice people were well liked.  


There are differences in all people, some will abuse power, others will not.  The power abuses are bullies.  Bullies, usually feel terrible about themselves deep down, even if they have achieved some popularity, they can never actually be happy, and this makes them into bullies. They don't actually know what happiness is, and no matter what they achieve they will keep up their behavior.  They get enjoyment out of hurting others.  It's a no brainer.   Power and control is all they know.


They will target those they admire, who make them feel jealous, they are more likely than not to target who they consider to be a worthy adversary and not go after a minion.  Some will target the week, but these are usually the less intelligent bullies, because the more intelligent ones will not get satisfaction out of bullying the weak. 



I hope this info helps.  You an learn everything from a study, sometimes you need a lot of personal experience, meaning you see it happen and observe it in people you know, or have known.

laneshabailey
laneshabailey

when u get bullied .......... wht would u do???????