Fort Worth, Texas,
13:59 PM

Are popular kids bullied?

Bullying impacts kids all kids on the social ladder

Shy, isolated and weak - is this how you would describe the typical bullying victim? Not so fast. A new study suggests that bullying affects kids at every position on the social ladder, and even the popular kids at the top encounter this emotional and physical distress.

Surprised? Lisa Elliott, Ph.D., clinic manager of Cook Children's Behavioral Health in Denton, Texas, isn't. Elliott, a licensed psychologist, says parents and teachers often have an outdated view of what a victim looks like.

"The general public has always perceived that children who are vulnerable to bullying have some sort of social deficit, physical handicap or learning disability," Elliott said. "While this is true, socially adept kids are equally vulnerable to bullying, especially when they attempt to climb the social ladder."

Last year, the American Sociological Review published the "Casualties of Social Combat" study, which examined more than 4,200 middle- and high-school students and found that the more popular students became, the more vulnerable they were to bullying.

Snakes and (Social) Ladders

For several years, Elliott has given presentations on bullying to the local community. She says parents are surprised when they hear a popular student can be both a bully and a victim at the same time. According to Elliott, the danger comes when a child tries to gain more status in a social clique that is emotionally aggressive or manipulative. Signs of this nonphysical bullying can be subtle and easily mislabeled as "drama."

Jockeying for position

According to the study, bullying is more likely to occur within a social group, between two "friends" who are on the same level in social heirarchy. On the outside, this may simply look like typical relationship drama. What's actually happening may be subtle but serious bullying.

How to Stop the Cycle 

No child is bully-proof. According to Elliott, the key is to to make sure your child can spot an unhealthy friendship before it goes too far.

"We should communicate to our children what true friendship is, and what it isn't," Elliott said. "This will help them discern which peers they can trust and which ones are trying to manipulate them."

Elliott offers parents the following talking points when speaking to their child about bullying:

  • Even people who say they're your friends, can bully you.
  • You should confront your friends when they're being hurtful to you or others.
  • Retaliating may feel good temporarily, but refusing to stoop to the bully's level will win you more popularity in the long run.
  • When you hear a false rumor, just ignore it and be yourself.
  • You're most likeable when you respect yourself and others.
  • Bullies usually have their own insecurities. Returning meanness with kindess is the best way to break down their defense.


Warning signs

If you worry your child is being bullied, look for the following signs:

  • Sudden change in friendships.
  • Unexpected drop in grades.
  • Irritability or moodiness.
  • Reluctance to go to school.
  • Avoidance of social situations.
  • Faked illnesses or complaints of feeling sick.
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Good Bullying Article