Why Kids Bully: Because They’re Popular

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 … Continue reading Why Kids Bully: Because They’re Popular