Checkup: Rethinking Bullies
I used to get picked on in grade school. I was a kinda nerdy, small kid, and I remember getting being made fun of by the cooler, more popular kids. Which is pretty much how bullying works. Or, at least, thatís how we think it works.
Because according to sociologist Robert Faris, the social dynamics of bullying in high school are more complicated.
"We found that a lot of the aggression is directed towards people who might be viewed as status rivals rather than kids at the margins."
In other words, a lot of the bullying that goes on happens among kids who are equally popular, and occupy roughly the same spot on the social totem pole. Why?
"Kids view aggression as one tactic of many in their efforts to gain or maintain social status. So we would expect escalation as kids increase social status."
So to move a notch up the social ladder, according to Farisís theory, kids have to sort of step on those just below them, and try to take down kids above them. Itís a little like chimpanzees battling each other for status. Which is maybe a pretty accurate description of high school.
But Faris did find one exception:
"The kids at the very very top of the social hierarchies in their schools were on average the least aggressive kids in their schools."
That may be because once theyíre reached the top, the most popular kids no longer need to assert their dominance. Or at that rarefied strata it seem unbecoming of for such high school royalty to stoop to bullying. In any case, Faris thinks that schools may be able to enlist these very popular kids in the fight against bullying.
"They have an enormous amount of influence and status, and interventions that targeted those social leaders might yield some additional benefits."
Iím Jeremy Shere