Study: Being Popular Doesn’t Make Teens More Immune To Bullying

Sorry, teenagers, but new study of high schoolers has found that becoming more popular can actually increase the risk of being bullied. Researchers from Pennsylvanita State University and The University of California, Davis teamed up and interviewed 4,200 North Carolina high school students about their social lives. The team used the interviews to create something of a social map of the school and where each kid stood among their peers. They followed changes within the school’s social structure over the course of the year.According to professor Bob Faris, “The climb up can be painful. As kids get closer [to the top], they become more involved in social combat.” Students were asked to name which classmates had picked on them and admit who they had bullied themselves. (How on earth they convinced high schoolers to be up front with such sensitive secrets, I have no idea.)

Contrary to what you might think, more popular kids became the more likely they were to be bullied. The only kids who were just about immune to bullying were the top four percent of the school’s hierarchy. Not only were those kids at the top less likely to get bullied, but they were not likely to be bullies either. According to Faris, “[The kids at the very top] have less incentive to be aggressive because they have nowhere else to climb. They have the luxury of being nice to everyone.” My initial thought had been that maybe those popular kids are just nice,  and that’s how they became popular — they never stooped to bullying and hadn’t made enemies.

I feel like every high school has those few kids who both teachers and students love. These are the kids who are popular simply because they’re charismatic and good leaders, totally contrary to the more catty sphere of popular kids that are more prone to “social combat”. Was that just my high school? Maybe I’m deluding myself into looking for some sense of karma so I don’t have to relent to the fact that those top four percent may have bullied their way to the top before they stopped being mean to others.

As surprising and sobering as this data is, Faris insists that it’s helpful for parents who may assume that their kid is doing fine just because they seem to have lots of friends. Apparently, most of them are experiencing bullying to some degree, and awareness is the first step in slowing down that kind of behavior. My teen years weren’t without speed bumps, but I don’t remember high school being that vicious. Is the world getting meaner? [NPR]