Anasayfa / Self Development Centre / Web of Popularity, Achieved by Bullying

Web of Popularity, Achieved by Bullying

For many teenagers navigating the social challenges of high school, the ultimate goal is to become part of the ÔÇťpopularÔÇŁ crowd. But new research suggests that the road to high school popularity can be treacherous, and that students near the top of the social hierarchy are often both perpetrators and victims of aggressive behavior involving their peers. The latest findings, being published this month in The American Sociological Review, offer a fascinating glimpse into the social stratification of teenagers. The new study, along with related research from the University of California, Davis, also challenges the stereotypes of both high school bully and victim.

Highly publicized cases of bullying typically involve chronic harassment of socially isolated students, but the latest studies suggest that various forms of teenage aggression and victimization occur throughout the social ranks as students jockey to improve their status.

The findings contradict the notion of the school bully as maladjusted or aggressive by nature. Instead, the authors argue that when it comes to mean behavior, the role of individual traits is ÔÇťoverstated,ÔÇŁ and much of it comes down to concern about status.

ÔÇťMost victimization is occurring in the middle to upper ranges of status,ÔÇŁ said the studyÔÇÖs author, Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at U.C. Davis. ÔÇťWhat we think often is going on is that this is part of the way kids strive for status. Rather than going after the kids on the margins, they might be targeting kids who are rivals.ÔÇŁ

Educators and parents are often unaware of the daily stress and aggression with which even socially well-adjusted students must cope.

ÔÇťIt may be somewhat invisible,ÔÇŁ Dr. Faris said. ÔÇťThe literature on bullying has so focused on this one dynamic of repeated chronic antagonism of socially isolated kids that it ignores these other forms of aggression. ItÔÇÖs entirely possible that one act, one rumor spread on the Internet could be devastating.ÔÇŁ

In a series of studies, some still awaiting publication, the U.C. Davis researchers asked 3,722 eighth to 10th graders in three counties in North Carolina to name their five best friends. Then the students were asked whether they had ever been a target of aggressive behavior by their peers ÔÇô including physical violence, verbal abuse and harassment, rumors and gossip, or ostracism ÔÇô and whether they had engaged in such behavior themselves.

The researchers used the data to construct complex social maps of the schools, tracking groups of friends and identifying the students who were consistently at the hub of social life. ÔÇťItÔÇÖs not simply the number of friends the kid has, itÔÇÖs who their friends are,ÔÇŁ Dr. Faris said. ÔÇťThe kids weÔÇÖre talking about are right in the middle of things.ÔÇŁ

Using the maps, the researchers tracked the students most often accused of aggressive behavior. They found that increases in social status were associated with subsequent increases in aggression. But notably, aggressive behavior peaked at the 98th percentile of popularity and then dropped.

ÔÇťAt the very top you start to see a reversal ÔÇô the kids in the top 2 percent are less likely to be aggressive,ÔÇŁ Dr. Faris said. ÔÇťThe interpretation I favor is that they no longer need to be aggressive because theyÔÇÖre at the top, and further aggression could be counterproductive, signaling insecurity with their social position.

ÔÇťItÔÇÖs possible that theyÔÇÖre incredibly friendly and everybody loves them and they were never mean, but IÔÇÖm not so convinced by that, because there are so many kids right behind them in the hierarchy who are highly aggressive.ÔÇŁ

Over all, the research shows that about a third of students are involved in aggressive behavior. In another paper presented last year, Dr. Faris reported that most teenage aggression is directed at social rivals ÔÇô ÔÇťmaybe one rung ahead of you or right beneath you,ÔÇŁ as he put it, ÔÇťrather than the kid who is completely unprotected and isolated.ÔÇŁ

ÔÇťItÔÇÖs not to say those kids donÔÇÖt get picked on, because they do,ÔÇŁ he said. ÔÇťBut the overall rate of aggression seems to increase as status goes up. What it suggests is that a student thinks they get more benefit to going after somebody who is a rival.ÔÇŁ

The research offers a road map for educators struggling to curb bullying and aggression both inside and outside of school. One option may be to enlist the support of students who arenÔÇÖt engaged in bullying ÔÇô those at the very top of the social ladder, and the two-thirds who donÔÇÖt bully.

Richard Gallagher, director of the Parenting Institute at the New York University Child Study Center, said the research added to a growing body of scientific literature documenting the role that popularity plays in aggressive teasing and bullying behavior.

ÔÇťIt does highlight that itÔÇÖs a typical behavior thatÔÇÖs used in establishing social networks and status,ÔÇŁ said Dr. Gallagher, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry. ÔÇťSchools and parents need to be tuned into this as a behavior that occurs all the time. It means that school districts need to have policies that deal with this, and I think it means also that we need to turn to the adolescents for some of the solutions.ÔÇŁ

Dr. Gallagher said that although results had been mixed, some research showed that schools could reduce bullying and aggression by enlisting the help of students as well as administrators.

ÔÇťItÔÇÖs not likely to eliminate it completely, but itÔÇÖs likely to decrease its occurrence,ÔÇŁ he said. ÔÇťThe programs that have been successful are the ones that get kids to stop being passive bystanders who go along with teasing or bullying. Efforts have been made to get the popular kids to say, ÔÇśThis is not cool.ÔÇÖ ÔÇŁ

Dr. Faris said he planned to conduct new research that would match the social maps with yearbooks to better document a schoolÔÇÖs social hierarchy. A related study, he added, also suggests that itÔÇÖs not just popularity that influences aggressive behavior, but how much the student cares about being popular.

ÔÇťHistorically, all the attention has been on the mental health deficiencies of the bullies,ÔÇŁ he said. ÔÇťWe need to direct more attention to how aggression is interwoven into the social fabric of these schools.ÔÇŁ

By Tara Parker-Pope
NY Times
February 14, 2011 Source : well.blogs.nytimes.com

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