Most Teen Bullying Occurs Among Peers Climbing the Social Ladder

*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on University of California, Davis.

Teens who bully, harass or otherwise victimize their peers are not always lashing out in reaction to psychological problems or unhealthy home environments, but are often using aggression strategically to climb their school’s social hierarchy, a University of California, Davis, study suggests. These findings point to the reasons why most anti-bullying programs don’t work and suggest possible strategies for the future.

“To the extent that this is true, we should expect them to target not vulnerable wallflowers, but their own friends, and friends-of-friends, who are more likely to be their rivals for higher rungs on the social ladder,” said Robert Faris, a UC Davis researcher on bullying and author of the paper “With Friends Like These: Aggression From Amity and Equivalence.” The paper was published recently in the American Journal of Sociology. Co-authors are sociologists Diane Felmlee at Pennsylvania State University and Cassie McMillan at Northeastern University.

Faris, a professor of sociology, said friends and associates with close ties to one another likely compete for positions within the same clubs, classrooms, sports, and dating subgroups, which heightens the risk of conflict and aggression. This paper is the first known to show that those rivals are often their own friends.

This differs from some common theories and definitions of bullying, in which the behavior stems from an imbalance of power and is mainly directed at youths in the lower social strata in school or community environments who possibly have physical, social, or psychological vulnerabilities.

Using a large, longitudinal social network study of more than 3,000 eighth, ninth, and 10thgraders in North Carolina over the course of a single school year, the authors found that teens who were friends in the fall were more than three times as likely to bully or victimize each other in the spring of that same school year. This is not merely animosity between former friends who drifted apart: Schoolmates whose friendships ended during the year were three times as likely to bully or victimize each other in the spring, while those whose friendships continued over the school year were over four times as likely to bully those friends, researchers said.

Source: UC Davis

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[reposted by] Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has 40 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on and Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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