Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pecking Order

You probably heard of the case of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, an Irish immigrant and high school student who had recently moved to Massachusetts. She was taunted and bullied unmercifully by classmates mostly because she dared to break from the school’s social order and date a popular upperclassman. Unable to deal with the bullying she was found by her younger sister in her home where she hung herself in a stairway.

A new study links bullying to student rivalries and the desire to improve social status. In high school students strive for positions of power and to be popular. Bullying and put downs allow students to improve ranking in the school culture.
This study ties bullying to students' desire to improve their status and popularity among their peers. It shows that once kids get to the top of their social hierarchy in school, they are no longer as likely to be aggressive with their bullying. Robert Faris, the author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at the UC Davis, says: "They no longer need to be aggressive because they're at the top, and further aggression could be counterproductive, signaling insecurity with their social position."

Of 3,722 eighth to 10th graders in a North Carolina study shows most bullying is directed at kids "one rung above or right beneath" the bully socially, Faris said, not at the target most typically seen in movies - a newcomer or social misfit.
What can be done about bullying? For one thing, parents and educators must be aware of the signs of bullying and have zero tolerance. Student leaders must be empowered to speak up for kids being targeted. They must have the full support of adults who will take action in all cases. Consequences for bullying must be firm and swift and schools must have clear policies for these situations.