Beware of the In Crowd
Aug. 13, 2000
By MICHELE ORECKLIN
It's possible that all these years we've been blaming the wrong kids for stealing our milk
money. The image of the schoolyard bully as a disaffected social outcast or a hulking
denizen of shop class is a familiar one and a staple of teenage lore. But as researchers
and teachers grow increasingly sensitive to the issue of school violence, they are
studying bullying more closely and finding that the stereotypes are often misleading.
In fact, bullies are likely to be among the most popular kids in school, admired by peers
and teachers alike, according to a report presented last week at a meeting of the
American Psychological Association (A.P.A.). "These are the kids that other students
look up to, the ones everybody wants to hang out with," says Dorothy Espelage, an
assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who co-authored
the study. It defines bullying as persistent teasing, name calling or social exclusion;
Espelage did not include overt physical acts, since she found they were rare and
typically used by students with more serious problems.
Espelage focused on students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade, when the
problem is most acute. "As kids transition into middle school, they are negotiating new
settings, establishing power within peer groups," she says. In this confusing period,
denigration of others often proves a successful route to prominence. In boys this
generally manifests itself through taunting or threats of violence, while girls are more
apt to spread rumors or inflict social ostracism. The study shows bullying tapering off as
kids advance into the eighth grade.
William Pollack, a psychologist who examines bullying in his book Real Boys' Voices,
agrees that intimidation is too often rewarded. "Aggression, homophobia and violent
behavior are looked up to in boys," he says. "Being artistic or musical is not." He
cautions, however, that not all child bullies are the cool kids--some are among the most
depressed students in a class and may be reacting to being bullied themselves. Pollack
is also worried that the phenomenon is on the rise, partly because families spend less
time together, which leaves boys fewer outlets for productive communication. "It's a
national epidemic," he says. "Both the amount of teasing and the intensity of it have
increased over time, and the stakes are higher. We're talking AK-47s now, not just a
shove." While Espelage acknowledges that it is difficult to know whether bullying is
growing more common, she says that recognition of its consequences is certainly on
the rise. Both agree that while bullying has been around since the one-room
schoolhouse, it should no longer be dismissed as a mere adolescent rite of passage.
An estimated 160,000 children each day miss school for fear of being picked on,
according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Typically, these students
are different in dress or appearance or seem unlikely to defend themselves. In addition
to academic failings, they suffer such physical ailments as stomachaches and
headaches as well as psychological troubles that in extreme cases include suicidal
Though bullies commonly have high self-esteem, they tend to be victims of psychic
damage as well. Most come from homes in which discipline is administered
inconsistently or through physical means. They often fail to learn effective methods of
problem solving, and by some estimates 1 in 4 chronic bullies will have a criminal
record by age 30.
Awareness of the dangers is spurring school systems across the U.S. to implement
antibullying programs, which have proved effective in other countries. In
Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Public Safety has set aside $1 million in federal
money to help schools identify potential bullies and aid their victims. Beginning this fall,
teachers statewide will use a curriculum created at Wellesley College that tackles
bullying as early as kindergarten. Administrators at Liberty Middle School in Ashland,
Va., started a similar program last year. Each week teachers meet with a group of 14
students and perform activities designed to promote interpersonal skills. Administrators
have also created zero-tolerance disciplinary guidelines.
A major objective of these efforts is to encourage bystanders to speak out. "If you
target one kid, you're missing the point," says Espelage.
"So much enabling is given by bystanders who remain passive."
Espelage also suggests eliciting the support of peer-group leaders. "If they
take a stand," she says, "the rest will fall in behind. They have leadership
skills that could be rechanneled." Evidence of this comes from another study
presented at the A.P.A. conference last week, which found, perhaps not surprisingly,
that some of our best Presidents, including F.D.R., were not above "bullying and
manipulating" if necessary.
With reporting by Rebecca Winters
2 studies show bullies are likely to be popular--but not
the most popular
Bullies, whether they are students or teachers, are likely to have the respect
and affection of their peers.
Lack of Knowledge
Stymies Efforts to Stop
By Dakarai Aarons
August 12, 2010
Despite increased attention
to the bullying of school-age
children, researchers, school
leaders and federal
education and health officials
say more research is needed
to pinpoint effective anti-
Phillip C. Rodkin, an
associate professor of
educational psychology at
the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, told the
Department of Education's
first summit on bullying
prevention Wednesday that
the reason school officials
and other adults don't know
more about bullying is simple:
"They didn't ask. They didn't
want to know."
He said adults need to spend
more time talking to children
about the social ecology of
relationships to understand
who is being bullied by whom
and what factors in the
conditions for bullying
relationships to persist.
One challenge that a number
of presenters brought up at
the Washington, D.C., summit
was the lack of agreement
about what constitutes
bullying. Bullying is defined in
some of the 43 state laws
banning it, but the definition
varies, as does the way
researchers ask students
and others about incidences
of bullying and other
aggressive behavior in
Another set of challenges
also stymies the work, said
Dr. Joseph L. Wright, a
pediatrician who is a senior
vice president and head of
the Child Health Advocacy
Institute at Children's National
Medical Center in
Many of his fellow
pediatricians lack knowledge
about bullying and its
connection to serious health
risks for children. Wright said
he has used his leadership
positions in groups such as
the American Academy of
Pediatrics to help raise
awareness. He also is
working to convince another
group of people to take the
physical and other
consequences of bullying
more seriously: the parents
of his young patients who
often write off the injuries as
part of "kids being kids."
"Many of us grew up with a
different ethos around these
behaviors and what they
mean," Wright explained.
The two-day summit, put
together through the
leadership of the federal
Education Department and
the Health Resources and
Services Administration, is
also a vehicle for federal
agencies to show off the tools
built from their collaboration.
One national tool is the
website Find Youth Info, a
project of the Interagency
Working Group on Youth
Programs. As an extension of
that site, the working group
has created BullyingInfo.org.
The sites bring together just
about everything every
federal department and
agency has available to help
students, and parents
understand and deal with
bullying. To have it all in one
place is nothing short of a
Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, the
U.S. Surgeon General, called
bullying a "public health
issue" and said local
advocates and educators
have to build on the policy
work of the federal
government to get others to
take bullying just as seriously
as other health issues
Education Secretary Arne
Duncan, who kicked off the
summit by talking about "the
plague of bullying," said the
department and its Office of
Safe and Drug-Free Schools
are stepping up enforcement
of civil rights violations and
will issue policy guidance to
schools about their
responsibilities to make sure
violations of civil rights law
are addressed. Some of the
bullying of children, with its
sexist, homophobic and racist
roots, can be considered
violations of harassment law.
That said, Duncan was clear
that his goal is "not to lock up
America's youth," but rather
to balance a hard-line
approach with a need to get
bullies the help they need
and to emphasize
preventative programs and
February 8, 2011
Study Disputes Myth of School Bullies' Social
By Nirvi Shah
In the movie “Mean Girls,” head plastic Regina George tortures her North
Shore High classmates of all stripes, including her supposed best friends. At
Springfield Elementary, where Bart Simpson goes to school, Nelson Muntz, the
oversized dimwit with the distinctive laugh, is the cartoon series’ bully.
A new study suggests that, in reality, neither of those students would
be the aggressors on campus.
Robert W. Faris, an assistant sociology professor at the University of
California, Davis, spent several years surveying students at middle and high
schools in rural and suburban North Carolina. The results of his research are
published in this month’s edition of the American Sociological Review.
He found that students in the middle of the social hierarchies at their
schools, rather than the most popular or the most socially outcast, are
more likely to be bullies.
“I think there’s kind of a simple explanation: These kids view aggression as
one tactic for gaining or maintaining their social status,” Mr. Faris said.
“This is not the only way that kids climb socially. There are a lot of
other ways—much more effective ways: being good in sports, being
pretty, being rich, if you’re funny, if you’re nice.”
Mr. Faris and UC-Davis colleague Diane Felmlee mapped social networks,
based on students’ responses to surveys about who their friends were and
whether those students listed them in turn, allowing the researchers to discern
which students were at the center of a particular school’s social web. Then
they asked which classmates treated them aggressively, discounting playful
teasing. The surveys showed that the students from whom the spokes of
school popularity emanated were less likely to harass classmates verbally,
spread rumors, engage in cyber-bullying, or use physical violence against their
“Our interpretation is, kids view this as a means to an end. Once they get to
the top, they no longer need to be aggressive. Aggression could be
counterproductive: It could signal insecurity,” Mr. Faris said.
But, he added, “there are definitely some kids who were socially marginal and
highly aggressive. There’s always going to be exceptions.”
The researchers, whose longitudinal study followed 3,722 students from 2002
through 2005, found that regardless of their backgrounds, race or ethnicity, or
grade levels, the patterns of aggressors’ places in the social spectrum were
“I’ve always had an interest in general terms in the relationship between power
and violence. On a more personal level, in 4th grade, I used to come
home with a bloody nose almost every day,” he said.
Two older students sought out the future sociologist, regardless of whether he
changed bus stops or went out of his way to avoid them, looking to beat him
up. He never knew why he was their frequent target. “I remember it
being kind of a mystery.”
Mr. Faris and Ms. Felmlee’s findings jibe with what bullying-prevention and -
support groups have found: Old stereotypes of school bullies are dangerous in
the modern world...
The Olweus approach is used in more than 7,000 schools nationwide and is
named after a Norwegian researcher who began studying bullying behavior in
his country more than 40 years ago. In the United States, Ms. Snyder and the
Olweus program are based at Clemson University in South Carolina.
“We have been very careful in our training not to spend too much time on who
might be the aggressor or who might be the child who is being victimized,” Ms.
Snyder said. “Some of the early stuff [in bullying prevention] talked about
personal characteristics. You can be pretty. You can be smart—anything
that is different from the group—that someone in the group decides is
Enjoy Other's Pain
centers' lit up as
they watched injuries
occur, study found
November 7, 2008
Bullies may actually
enjoy the pain they
cause others, a new
study using brain
The part of the brain
reward lights up when an
watches a video of
another person, but not
watches the same
clip, according to the
published in the current
specific and very strong
activation of the
amygdala and ventral
striatum (an area
that responds to feeling
watching pain inflicted on
suggested that they
pain," researcher Jean
professor in psychology
and psychiatry at
the University of
Chicago, said in a
university news release.
control group, the youth
disorder did not activate
the area of the
brain involved in
medial prefrontal cortex
The study compared
eight 16- to
18-year-old boys with an
conduct disorder to a
group that didn't
show unusual signs of
imaging (fMRI) while
watching videos in which
pain accidentally, such
as when a heavy
bowl was dropped on
their hands, and
intentionally, such as
when a person
stepped on another's
Bullies are popular
Fred Kamper case
should be required to
take a brain scan
before they get a
credential--to see if
they enjoy causing pain.]
Aggression on Job More
Than Sexual Harassment
Study finds bullied
workers had more
stress, less commitment
and higher levels
bullying and other forms
aggression may inflict
more harm on
employees than sexual
according to a Canadian
"As sexual harassment
acceptable in society,
be more attuned to
helping victims, who
may therefore find it
easier to cope. In
forms of workplace
aggression such as
incivility and bullying
are not illegal, leaving
victims to fend for
themselves," lead author
Hershcovis, of the
University of Manitoba,
said in a prepared
In their work, the
110 studies conducted
over 21 years.
They found that both
aggression and sexual
for workers, but
aggression has more
Workers faced with
bullying, incivility or
were more likely to
quit their jobs, have a
lower level of
well-being, be less
satisfied with their jobs,
and have less satisfying
their bosses than
workers who were
sexually harassed, the
In addition, bullied
more job stress, less job
higher levels of anger
"Bullying is often more
subtle and may
include behaviors that
do not appear
obvious to others,"
Hershcovis said. "For
instance, how does an
employee report to
their boss that they have
from lunch? Or that they
ignored by a co-worker?
nature of these
behaviors makes them
difficult to deal with and
The study was to be
in Washington, D.C., at
Conference on Work,
Stress and Health,
co-sponsored by the
Association, the U.S.
National Institute of
and Health, and the
US Dept Health and Human Services
So, you aren't someone who bullies others, and you haven't been bullied
yourself. But if you see it
happening to others, you can help put a stop to it. In order to stop bullying,
everyone needs to lend a
hand and get involved! And even though it might be easier to stand by and
watch (or try to ignore the
bullying), just remember, we all need a little help from time to time! Think
about how you might feel if the
bullying was happening to YOU. There are all kinds of great things you can do
to help. So the next time
you see someone being bullied, try one (or more) of these ideas and make a
Report the bullying to an adult. Many kids who are bullied are scared to tell an
adult about it (especially
a teacher or principal), because they are afraid the person bullying them will
find out and the bullying
will just get worse. That's where you come in. Even if it's a little scary for you to
tell an adult about
bullying that you see, it's the right thing to do. It's not tattling—you're helping
someone out. Who should
you tell? You could tell your teacher, school counselor, school nurse, parents,
coach, or any adult you
feel comfortable talking with. It might be a little less scary if you ask a friend to
go along with you. Be
sure to tell the adult exactly what happened—who was bullied, who did the
bullying, and where and
when it happened. If you're not sure if another kid is being bullied but you
think they probably are—it's
good to report that, too. Most adults really care about bullying and will be
VERY glad that you told them
about it. If you told an adult and you don't think they did anything about the
bullying (or if it isn't getting
any better), find another adult to tell.
For ideas on how to report bullying, see what K.B. and Melanie do when they
spreading rumors about Mimi in the school hallway.
Support someone who is being bullied. Sometimes the best thing you can do
for a person who is being
bullied is just to be there for him or her and be a friend. Whether this means
agreeing to walk home with
him or her after school, sitting with him or her on the bus or at lunch, trying to
include him or her in your
school or social activities, or just spending some time with him or her and
trying to understand what he
or she is going through, it will make a huge difference! Although these may
seem like small things to
you, they will show a kid who is being bullied that you care about him or her
and the problems he or she
is facing. And that can be a BIG help!
Josh stands up for Hal, his teammate, after being bullied by Brick on the way
to the locker room. Listen
in on his cool approach to lend a hand by talking with Coach Cruncher.
Stand up to the person doing the bullying. If you feel safe doing this, tell a
person who is bullying that
what he or she is doing is wrong and that he or she should stop. Keep it
simple. You could just say,
"Ben, cut it out. Nobody thinks that's funny." If you can, get some friends to
join you. When kids who
bully see that other kids don't think it's cool, they are more likely to stop. Just
be sure you don't bully
them back! It's not easy to stand up to kids who may be bigger and stronger
than you or really popular,
so if you're not comfortable doing this, that's OK. (But be sure to tell an adult!)
After he fails to stop kids in the neighborhood from bullying his little sister,
Milton finds that it is best to
involve your parents. Take some tips from his example.
Bullying may accompany drive to be popular
Feb 08, 2011
By Jenifer Goodwin
Teens who are already popular but trying to become even more so are the
most likely to bully other kids, new research suggests.
The kids seem to think that antagonizing others will raise their own status in the eyes of
their peers, according to the study, published in the February issue of the American
Researchers asked about 3,700 students in 8th, 9th and 10th grades from three
counties in North Carolina about their behavior toward others and how often they were
the target of physical aggression, verbal aggression (such as teasing or threats),
rumors or indirect bullying (such as ostracism). Teens were also asked how often they
did this to a classmate.
The study team, which followed students over one school year, also asked kids to
name their top five friends, then used that data to determine which kids were the most
popular and at the center of the school's social network.
Kids who were at the top of the social pecking order, but not at the very top, were the
most likely to tease or be aggressive toward others.
"Status increases aggression," said lead study author Robert Faris, an assistant
professor of sociology at University of California, Davis. "For a long time, people
perceived aggression as a maladjusted reaction to problems at home or mental health
issues, but our research is consistent with the idea it's a nasty underbelly to social
hierarchies. Aggression is perceived to be a way of getting ahead."
In fact, bullying peaked at the 98th percentile of popularity and then dropped for the
most popular kids -- the top 2 percent -- perhaps because they no longer feel the need
to put others down to improve their own status.
The average aggression rate, or the number of classmates they teased or bullied, for
kids at the 98th percentile was 28 percent greater than for students at the very bottom
and 40 percent greater than for students at the very top.
"Aggression could be counterproductive when you've reached the top," Faris said. "It
could signal insecurity with their social position. If you are at the top, you may get much
more benefit from being nice."
Kids at the very lowest end of the popularity spectrum also did little bullying, possibly
because they did not have the power to even attempt it, Faris said.
Perhaps the good news is that about 67 percent of kids were not aggressive or mean
toward anyone. Of the 33 percent who were, they picked on an average of about two
The maximum number of kids any one bully targeted was nine, but targeted children
were picked on by as many as 17 of their classmates, the researchers found.
"Aggression can be concentrated on a few kids," Faris said.
Girls and boys were equally as likely to bully. Kids who moved higher on the social
hierarchy also increased their aggression.
So what to do about it? Rather than focus only on the bullies or their victims, programs
should also include the silent majority who aren't involved, but whose tacit support may
encourage bullying. "The bystanders give people their status, and they can decide to
reward aggression or scorn it," Faris said.
Richard Gallagher, director of the Parenting Institute at New York University Child
Study Center, said this research fits with prior studies linking popularity and bullying.
"Other studies have indicated that popular children are the ones more likely to get
involved with teasing and sometimes bullying," Gallagher said. "It establishes their
status, and many times the kids that observe it will think that it's deserved and justified."
Whether such abuse actually succeeds in raising status was not measured in this
study. What's notable is that students believe it works, the authors wrote. However,
they noted that the findings, which were based on 19 small-town and or rural schools,
may not be replicated in other areas.
Bullying causes about 160,000 U.S. students to skip school each day, according to
background information in the study. Kids who are being targeted should be taught to
be assertive, but also to notify their parents and school authorities if the bullying gets
out of hand, experts say.
"Parents need to recognize this is going to happen. They need to teach their kids to
stand up for themselves and not be so fragile when it comes to teasing," Gallagher
said. "At the same time, we need to watch out for its excesses."
...The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on preventing and
|San Diego Education Report
...[B]ullying prevention programs are often focused on addressing social skill deficits,
empathy shortages, and impulse control, while the root cause of much aggression is
the competition for prestige.
“Status competition, however, has never been the primary focus of prevention
programs,” Faris said.
“To reduce bullying, it may be useful for schools to dedicate more attention and
resources to deemphasizing social status hierarchies, perhaps by fostering a greater
diversity of activities that promote a variety of interest-based friendship groups...
For most adolescents, popularity increases risk of getting
April 1, 2014
A new study suggests that for most adolescents, becoming more popular both
increases their risk of getting bullied and worsens the negative consequences of being
"Most people probably would not think that having a higher social status would
increase the risk of being targeted, but with few exceptions, that's what we find," said
the study's lead author Robert Faris, an associate professor of sociology at the
University of California-Davis. "It's kind of a hidden pattern of victimization that is
rooted in the competition for social status."
This does not mean that stereotypical bullying victims -- kids with body image issues,
delayed physical development, or those without any friends at all -- are not picked on.
"Socially vulnerable youth are frequently tormented and this is a huge problem," Faris
said. "However, our study suggests that many victims don't fit the stereotype."
Titled, "Casualties of Social Combat: School Networks of Peer Victimization and Their
Consequences," the study, which appears in the April issue of the American
Sociological Review, relies on data from the Context of Adolescent Substance Use
survey, a longitudinal survey of adolescents at 19 public schools in three counties in
North Carolina that began in the spring of 2002. In their study, Faris and his co-author
Diane Felmlee, a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, focus on
more than 4,200 8th, 9th, and 10th grade students who participated in the survey
during the 2004-2005 school year.
The researchers determined students' popularity based on how central they were in
their school's web of friendships and measured victimization by analyzing interviews in
which students were asked to nominate up to five schoolmates who picked on or were
mean to them and up to five peers whom they picked on or were mean to, Faris said.
Among both boys and girls, Faris said that if an adolescent is in the middle of the
school social hierarchy -- the 50th percentile -- and moves up the social ladder to the
95th percentile, the likelihood that he or she will be victimized by his or her peers
increases by more than 25 percent.
"But once students reach the very peak of the school hierarchy -- above the 95th
percentile -- the likelihood of being victimized plummets," Faris said. "So, while the
climb to the top of the social ladder can be painful, the very top rung offers a safe
perch above the fray."
Why are these super popular adolescents less susceptible to bullying?
"If status were money, they would be like Bill Gates -- their positions are secure," Faris
said. "They don't need to torment their peers in an effort to climb up the social ladder
-- a tactic commonly used among those battling for position -- because they are
already at the top, and they aren't being victimized because they are out of reach and
have no rivals."
While the super popular are less susceptible to bullying, in the rare instances when
they do get victimized, the negative consequences are magnified. In fact, the
researchers found that the more popular the victims are, the more depression, anxiety,
anger, and social marginalization they experience as result of a given incident of
"This may be because popular students feel like they have more to lose, since they
may have worked quite hard to attain their social standing," Faris said. "Another
possibility is that more popular students are more unsuspecting victims than those on
the periphery, and therefore react particularly strongly."
Although the study focuses on a sample of small-town and rural North Carolina
students, Faris thinks the findings would generally be consistent for adolescents in
other places as well. In fact, Faris and Felmlee recently found similar results among
students at an elite public high school in a wealthy Long Island suburb of New York
City. "I certainly wouldn't say our findings are going to hold true at every single school,
but I think it is a common pattern," Faris said. "I say that especially because we have
found the same trend among adolescents in such different contexts."
In terms of the study's policy implications, Faris said he hopes the study raises
awareness among parents, educators, and policymakers that students do not
necessarily have to have obvious stigmas about them to be bullying victims.
"We hope that in addition to continuing to help socially vulnerable youth, these more
central victims, hidden in plain sight, are acknowledged in the national dialogue as
well," said Faris, who noted that bullying prevention programs are often focused on
addressing social skill deficits, empathy shortages, and impulse control, while the root
cause of much aggression is the competition for prestige.
"Status competition, however, has never been the primary focus of prevention
programs," Faris said. "To reduce bullying, it may be useful for schools to dedicate
more attention and resources to deemphasizing social status hierarchies, perhaps by
fostering a greater diversity of activities that promote a variety of interest-based
friendship groups and not celebrating one activity -- such as basketball or football --
over any other."
The above story is based on materials provided by American Sociological Association (ASA). Note:
Materials may be edited for content and length.
R. Faris, D. Felmlee. Casualties of Social Combat: School Networks of Peer Victimization and
Their Consequences. American Sociological Review, 2014; 79 (2): 228 DOI: 10.1177