How many kids are at risk of being bullied – and how many kids are at risk of becoming bullies? Years of research by psychologists have given us answers, and these answers may help you evaluate the risks of your own children or students.
Research tells us that, in the average classroom:
Let us look briefly at each category and explore the social risks faced by each kind of child.
Very popular students are looked up to by other students. They are often well-regarded thanks to being athletic, physically attractive, and/or “cool.” The risk of these students facing ostracism or abuse is low – unless they turn haughty or arrogant and others decide to reject them.
Accepted students are not the most popular, but they have an established circle of friends that give them security and feelings of belonging.
Ambiguous children are the group of students in the middle of the pack socially. They are not as well-regarded as their more popular peers, but they are also not looked down upon.
At-risk children are those who face the greatest risk of rejection, humiliation, and social trauma.
Within the at-risk group, on average:
• 4% are “neglected.” These children are usually so reserved that socially connected students barely notice them or pay them any attention. This lessens the chance they will be bullied but increases their chances of loneliness.
• 4% are “controversial.” These children have personality traits that can hinder them socially when taken to extremes. For example, a child who is extremely extroverted can win many friends but lose them if they try and use their social power to control or manipulate others.
• 12% are either “rejected-submissive” or “rejected-aggressive.”
“Rejected-submissive” students lack social skills, which estranges them from their peer group and may be even cause teachers to feel that they are burdensome. These students face an increased risk of being bullied.
“Rejected-aggressive” students also lack social skills, but the difference between them and “rejected-submissive” students is that rejected-aggressive students fight back – literally or figuratively – against the rejection they face. This fighting often lowers their social position even further, as they are branded as troublemakers. The “rejected-aggressive” students are the ones thought of by researchers as having the highest risk of becoming school bullies.
The book “Mom, They’re Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems” by Thomson, Cohen and Grace goes into these statistics and categories at length. Perhaps the most important takeaway from the book relative to this discussion is that there is hope for those at the bottom of the social scale – but only if teachers, school counselors, and parents work together to help support students socially. In the words of the authors:
“…(A)dults can make a huge difference in the lives of children who are at risk…(it is vital) for parents and teachers to pay close attention to how children are doing socially, and take steps to help. When basic connections with friends and the group are absent it is very hard for children to learn the common language of social life.”