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LOS ANGELES — Only the prom king and queen are safe.

Researchers say that the more popular teens are — except for those at the very apex of the fragile high school hierarchy — the more likely they are to be bullied, perhaps a surprise to those who presumed outcasts were the targets.

Researchers Robert Faris of the University of California, Davis and Diane Felmlee of Penn State University write that bullying is reported by nearly a fifth of teens.

“For most students, gains in status increase the likelihood of victimization and the severity of its consequences,” they wrote in the journal of the American Sociological Association.

The aggressors, too, often “possess strong social skills,” and bully others to move up the social ladder rather than to “re-enact their own troubled home lives.”

The uppermost teens on the social scale can “afford” to be nice, but those in the next tier have to keep themselves there, Faris said Tuesday.

He and Felmlee looked at how status can increase the chances of being a victim and how it can magnify the distress caused, which can include depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The researchers don’t suggest that outcast teens of various sorts don’t get bullied — only that theirs is not the whole story.



The researchers used data from more than 8,000 students in 19 North Carolina schools about their five closest friends and five students who had “picked on or were mean” to them, and five they in turn had been mean to. They used that web of connections to draw their conclusions.

Girls had higher rates of victimization.

Some students found protection; being friends with teens of the opposite gender provided some shield.


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