"Adolescents who are relatively popular are at high risk of harassment, the invisible victims of school-based aggression," said Robert Faris, an Associate Professor of sociology at University of California, Davis.

Females and physically or socially vulnerable youth are also victimised at particularly high rates, according to the study, but most striking was the prevalence of relatively popular youth among the ranks of the victims.

The study found that the risk of being bullied increases as adolescents climb their school's social ladder - up until they approach the very top, when the risk plummets. The students at the top, approximately the five percent most popular kids in school, sit just above the fray, possibly because their extremely high status puts them out of reach of any rivals.

The study looked at the social networks of 4,000 youths in three counties in North Carolina. It found victims of harassment suffered psychological, social and academic consequences, and they experienced 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 commented. The research is published in the latest edition of the American Sociological Review.


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