Middle school bullies are the cool kids

Bullies who pick fights or spread nasty rumors are the “cool” kids in middle school, according to psychologists who surveyed seventh and eighth graders in Los Angeles, reports Live Science.

“The ones who are cool bully more, and the ones who bully more are seen as cool,” study researcher Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology, said in a statement.

The study is published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Anti-bullying campaigns should focus on persuading bystanders to show they disapprove of bullying, advised Juvenon.

Bullies often target unpopular children who are less likely to be defended by onlookers, notes Live Science.

Via Education News.

Town turns tables on school prank

The cool kids thought it would be funny to elect an unpopular girl to the homecoming court at Ogemaw Heights High, then taunt her for being an outsider, writes Francis X. Donnelly in the Detroit News. But the people of West Branch, Michigan, a small farm town, rallied around sophomore Whitney Kropp.

Kids pointed at her in the hallways and laughed. The boy who was picked with her withdrew.

Students told her that, in case she was wondering why the boy had dropped out, he was uncomfortable being linked with her.

“I thought I wasn’t worthy,” said Kropp, 16. “I was this big old joke.”

But her family persuaded Kropp to go to the game and have a great time.

“Going to homecoming to show them that I’m not a joke,” she wrote on Facebook. “Im a beautiful person and you shouldn’t mess with me!”

Then word spread, thanks to a Facebook support page, and backing the “free spirit” against the mean girls went viral. Local businesses offered to “buy her dinner, take her photo, fix her hair and nails, and dress her in a gown, shoes and a tiara,” writes Donnelly.
Josh Awrey, the football player who’d dropped out, decided he’d join her after all when the homecoming court is presented at halftime.
“Im sick of everyone blaming me. I had nothing to do with this,” he wrote (on his Facebook page). “I think what they (students) did is rlly rude and immature.”

“Team Whitney” — including graduates who hadn’t been to a football game in decades — vowed to pack the stands at the homecoming game to cheer for her. Normally dressed in black, she got a red dress for the occasion.

Anti-bullying drive hits students’ rights

Anti-bullying campaigns are infringing on students’ rights to free association, argues attorney Hans Bader.

For example, some schools are trying to regulate birthday invitations: All classmates — or all classmates of the same sex — must be invited so unpopular kids don’t feel left out. (My mother told me I couldn’t invite almost all the girls in my kindergarten class. It was all or half.)

Using politically-correct psychobabble about “power relationships,” some psychologists have sought to redefine bullying to include wielding “popularity,” not just violence.  For example, a recent survey by a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, Dewey Cornell, defined bullying as “the use of one’s strength or popularity to injure, threaten or embarrass another person on purpose,” and defined it to include “verbal” or “social” behavior, not just “physical” assaults and intimidation.

Nobully.com defines “eye rolling” as a form of bullying, Bader writes. “Relational bullying” includes disrupting “another student’s peer relationships through leaving them out, gossiping, whispering and spreading rumors.” It’s hard to imagine a school on Planet Earth in which everybody is friends with everybody else and nobody gossips, whispers or spreads rumors.

A victim of  violent bullying as a child — and one rarely invited to birthday parties –  Bader thinks “these overbroad definitions of bullying trivialize actual bullying.”

Outsiders rule?

The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth, proclaims Alexandra Robbins, who subtitles her new book: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School.

Robbins follows six high school students and a young teacher (a Vermont lesbian teaching in the South) through a year of school, chronicling gamers, band geeks, emos, punks, loners, jocks and the Popular Bitch, who likes a punk boy. Even the teachers are consumed by gossip, petty rivalries, bitchery and bias toward the “popular,” Robbins asserts.

A Chicago Sun-Times reviewer buys the premise that outsiders are creative, independent thinkers, not just kids who are slower to develop social skills.

At the heart of Geeks is quirk theory, which “hypothesizes that the very characteristics that exclude the cafeteria fringe in school are the same traits that will make them successful as adults and outside the school setting”: creativity/originality, freethinking/vision, resilience, authenticity/self-awareness, integrity/candor, curiosity/love of learning/passion, and courage.

Kids on the “cafeteria fringe” — the ones who can’t figure who to sit with at lunch — usually haven’t chosen to be friendless. (Robbins’ examples do have friends, though not necessarily the ones they want.)  In my experience, outsiders aren’t necessarily super smart, creative or bold non-conformists.  They may be just geeky kids who need a little more time to get it together.  Nor is it axiomatic that the socially adept will be as vapid and mean as the popular girls Robbins describes so vividly.

As an amateur anthropologist, my daughter spent middle school studying popularity. She concluded the essential ingredient is confidence.  In high school, she wasn’t “popular.,  but had plenty of friends in the good-student set. She had the confidence to act as a social sponsor for new kids.  Her specialty was getting a new kid accepted at a compatible lunch table, so they wouldn’t be “cafeteria fringe.” She did it because she is both socially adept and nice. And a bit of a busybody, perhaps.

Cliques aren’t new. What’s changed is the ability of teens to use social media to harass, bully and exclude outsiders — or insiders who stray from their clique’s rules of behavior.  I’d like to learn more about how this works and what might limit the cruelty.