As teens grow into their high school years, bullying changes in a few key ways. On the positive side, most research shows the prevalence of bullying dips ever so slightly, likely because teens begin to mature and become a little more secure in their identity. This decrease isn’t dramatic – we’re talking about perhaps a few percentage points, but every little bit helps.
On the more depressing side, the same studies tend to show that the bullying which does occur becomes more severe and sophisticated in high school. So slightly fewer kids are bullied overall, but those who are targeted tend to really get it. And they face more sophisticated bullies with plenty of practice in the art of torment.
As bullying matures
As children mature, so too does bullying. As a whole it becomes less focused on superficial differences such as weight or looks. These issues are certainly still used by bullies to attack kids they don’t like, but there is less targeting of kids solely because of these skin-deep differences. Physical bullying also subsides and is replaced by an increase in relational, verbal, and emotional forms of bullying. That bullying which does occur tends to get more sophisticated, often taking the form of systematic and coordinated attacks.
Although children are maturing, they still remain largely insecure…some much more so than others. So there are still many opportunities for this insecurity to translate into social aggression and bullying. We also shouldn’t forget that even in adult society, there are large swaths of the population who maintain racist or bigoted views towards particular groups or types of people. So if this doesn’t go away even in adult life, it certainly never vanishes completely in high school.
Sexual bullying in high school
Certain hot button and socially sanctioned topics, such as tormenting the gay kids, may go on just as robustly as ever, because of social values that teach our kids it’s good and noble to attack someone over a deviation in sexuality. Prejudice against Muslims or children of Hispanic descent (“illegals”) may also thrive, since these are issues where the bigotry is sanctioned by many in society.
High school bullying as a result of conflict
Although the indiscriminate bullying may start to subside, there are still plenty of ways for feuds to start which will lead to bullying. Dating becomes more common, which opens the door for relational aggression when…
- Girl dates boy making other girls jealous;]
- Boy dumps girl who is friends or siblings with boy B, who then bullies the boy who dumped the girl;
- Girl or boy is interested in weeding out their competition by means of bullying;
- Or any one of numerous other social dynamics form as a result of competition among the sexes and the new relationships being formed and then broken as an inherent part of courting.
Institutionalized bullying in high school
Many high schools have a culture that promotes bullying as a privilege of seniority; a power the older kids have earned to use against the younger ones. After an anti-bullying program was put into place at one high school, many high-school seniors were irked about how it “had upset the school’s social hierarchy” and undermined their power over the younger students. “Senior year is supposed to be your time,” said one student. “Now we’re on the same level as everyone else.” (Garbarino & deLara, 2002, p. 73) It’s revealing that these teens interpreted a moratorium on bullying as a loss of social status or a revoked privilege. It shows just how much bullying has become a basic part of the school psyche.
Group bullying in high school
High school bullying often becomes normalized within different social groups within the school. It can become a form of group-on-group aggression – a type of psychological warfare where bullying occurs according to group allegiances. In other cases, it’s something looked upon as a privilege of popularity. The “royalty” of the school – groups of jocks and popular kids – consider it their right and duty to harass all those lower on the social hierarchy.