Bullying May Accompany Drive to Be Popular [Business Week.com, by Jenifer Goodwin, 8/2/2011].

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 Sociological Review.

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 classmates.

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.”

Cyberbullying can be tougher to confront, researcher says [LasCrucesSunNews, by Christine Rogel, 26/12/2010]

LAS CRUCES – Nathaniel Rodriguez was bullied throughout middle school for being gay. He said kids would tease him, call him “faggot” and tell him he ran like a girl.

“It was never anything to the point where they would mess with me physically, just call me names. But I got tired of that. And then high school came around and I was like OK, fresh start,” Rodriguez, 18, said.

“I didn’t really come out to my friends in high school. So they didn’t really know who I was because I was hiding that part of me. I was just more scared of what it was going to be like. Kids are crueler,” he said.

Rodriguez said as part of his cover he dated girls, and that for awhile the teasing stopped.

“Then one of my friends actually found out. And me and him were really close, like really, really close friends. We would do everything together,” Rodriguez said. “And he was straight and he thought I was also.”

After finding out, his friend logged onto Rodriguez’s MySpace account and “outed” him to his 500 to 600 friends online, publishing lies about his behavior and even posturing as Rodriguez and breaking up with the girl he was dating.

Rodriguez, who was then living in Albuquerque, ended up switching schools.

Online threats are just as harmful as face-to-face bullying and sometimes there’s no escape, said Sheri Bauman, an associate professor at the University of Arizona and a recipient of National Science Foundation grant to study cyber bullying.

“Not too long ago there was a kid persistently victimized. The school made every attempt to stop it and eventually the student was advised to change schools. Well, with cyber bullying the information was already at the kid’s new school, making it more difficult for kids to cope with these types of situations,” Bauman said.

A study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2009 found that more than 13 percent of students have experienced cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is common on social networks, like Facebook or MySpace, but it also occurs frequently in text messages, e-mail and even on some online games and virtual reality sites like Second Life, Bauman said. More than half, 55 percent, of all online American youths ages 12 to 17 use online social networking sites, according to a 2007 survey of teenagers conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

As a result of being bullied online or offline, kids can feel depressed and anxious. They can withdraw and their performance in school and attendance can decrease, she said.

“Parents need to become educated about technology so they know what kids are talking about,” Bauman said.

Kids are often hesitant to tell parents or teachers about cyber bullying because they fear their technology will be taken away, she said.

“And that means they’re cut off from the world, their connected all of the time and they’d rather put up with the experience then risk being the only kids without Internet or a cell phone.”

Christine Rogel can be reached at (575) 541-5424.

Tips for parents

The Federal Trade Commission provides these tips on Internet safety for parents:

•Start early: As soon as your child is using a computer, a cell phone or any mobile device, it’s time to talk to them about online behavior, safety, and security.

•Create an honest, open environment: Be supportive and positive. Listening and taking their feelings into account helps keep conversation afloat. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about that can go a long way.

•Initiate conversations: Use everyday opportunities to talk to your kids about being online. For example, a TV program featuring a teen online or using a cell phone can tee up a discussion about what to do – or not – in similar circumstances.

•Communicate your values: Be upfront about your values and how they apply in an online context.

•Be patient: Most kids need to hear information repeated, in small doses, for it to sink in. If you keep talking with your kids, your patience and persistence will pay off. Work hard to keep the lines of communication open, even if you learn your kid has done something online you find inappropriate.

Source: Federal Trade Commission