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Cool Kids Get Booed Too: Bullying Hurts Popular Teens More

Update Date: Apr 01, 2014 03:56 PM EDT

"Freaks" and "geeks" aren't the only ones that get bullied in school. New research reveals that popular jocks and cheerleaders are also more likely to be victims of bullying.

In fact, a new study reveals that popularity can increase the risk of being victimized. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that becoming popular increases teen's risk of getting bullied and worsens the negative consequences of being victimized.

"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," Robert Faris, associate professor of sociology at UC Davis and co-author of the study, said in a news release.

While females and physically or socially vulnerable teens are victimized at particularly high rates, the latest study reveals that the prevalence of being victimized was most striking in popular kids.

The latest findings revealed that the risk of being bullied increases as adolescents climb the school's social ladder. In fact, the risk of being bullied becomes higher and higher until they reach the very top, where the risk drops dramatically. The findings revealed that the top 5 percent most popular kids in school are least likely to get bullied. Researchers said this might be because their extremely high status puts them out of reach of any rivals.

The latest study involved social networks of 4,000 teens in three counties in North Carolina. Participants were from 19 different schools and were enrolled in grades eight through 10. Students were asked questions about their five closet friends, and researchers constructed social networks of large webs of friendships with the center being made up of the most popular students.

 The findings revealed that popularity increases the risk of being victimized.

"We did find that students who are isolated do get bullied," researcher Diane Felmlee, professor of sociology at Penn State said in a news release. "However, for most students, the likelihood of being targeted by aggressive acts increases as a student becomes more popular, with the exception of those at the very top."

"When youth are vying for status, they probably gain little from attacking students who are already marginalized -- in fact, it might backfire," said Felmlee, who worked with Robert Faris, associate professor, University of California Davis. "But, if adolescents put down someone who is trying to be a leader in their group, or who constitutes a threat to their status, then there is a lot more to be gained."

Researchers said the findings are important because victims of bullying can suffer psychological, social and academic consequences. They can also experience high levels of anxiety, anger and depression.

"Most of these adverse consequences were worse for high-status targets, because while socially marginal youth are often brutally tormented, a single bullying event may be particularly psychologically and socially damaging for popular students, who feel that they have farther to fall," Faris added.

The findings are published in the American Sociological Review.

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