For most adolescents becoming popular increases their risk of getting bullied, and worsens the consequences of being victimised.
A study by the University of California, Davis, suggests these students feel they have “farther to fall”.
“In contrast to stereotypes of wallflowers as the sole targets of peer aggression, adolescents who are relatively popular are also at high risk of harassment, the invisible victims of school-based aggression,” said Robert Faris, associate professor of sociology.
Females and physically or socially vulnerable youth are also victimised at a high rate, according to the study.
Girls who date are at increased risk of physical violence. Girls may pose particular threats to other female students’ social standing and represent potential rivals when it comes to securing a boyfriend.
For boys, girls who date represent rewarding, often popular and relatively easy targets who are unlikely to retaliate physically.
Students who have an aggressive friend tend to avoid being victimised. This may be further evidence that bullying is rarely an individual act but associated with how friends establish and maintain hierarchies by protecting their own, according to the researchers.
But most striking was the prevalence of relatively popular youth among the ranks of the victims.
The study found that the risk of being bullied increases as adolescents climb the social ladder up until they approach the very top, when the risk plummets.
The students at the top, about the 5% most popular kids in school, sit just above the fray, possibly because their extremely high status puts them out of reach of any rivals.
The results of the study are published in an article, Casualties of Social Combat: School Networks of Peer Victimisation and their Consequences, in the latest edition of the American Sociological Review.
The study looked at the social networks of 4,000 youths in three counties in North Carolina and from 19 schools enrolled in grades 8 to 10.
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