Ponnada: Nobody wins in high school

BY SRI PONNADA | APRIL 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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When I was younger, I used to get picked on at school all the time. I was convinced that it was because I wasn’t like the other kids. I looked different, I talked in a foreign accent, and everyone told me that I was weird. That’s why I started doing all the things that the “cool” kids did — I dressed like them, drank iced coffee all the time, and bought a BlackBerry so I could talk to them on BBM (don’t judge me, this was a long time ago).

No matter what I did, I still got picked on. In fact, I probably got bullied more when I was tying to be “cool.” I cried about it a lot then, but as I got older, I learned to accept the playground persecutions. I even grew to embrace my “weird.”

Now, after finding out some new information, I am owning the weirdness all the more.

According to a new study published this week in the American Sociological Review, popular teens are victims of bullying, too. The study found that teens with relatively high social standing are bullied more often than the lunchroom’s “weakest links.” So, for those kids who making an effort to rise through the social ranks to avoid being picked on: Beware. Apparently, as teens become more popular, their chance of being bullied increases, as well — by more than 25 percent.

Researchers asked approximately 4,200 North Carolina students in the eighth, ninth, and 10th grades to name five kids “who picked on you or were mean to you in the past three months.” Then, the researchers created a school-wide “social-network map,” using additional data about who was friends with whom to figure out each kid’s social standing.

While the map showed signs of “old school” bullying, in which socially isolated kids are the targets, there was much more of what the researchers are calling “instrumental targeting” — cruel attacks by one social rival against another. These attacks can include anything from gossiping or taunting, eye rolling or turning one’s back, to punching.

The study also proved that girls endure a lot more of this “drama” — the preferred high-school term for bullying — than boys do. It’s clear that Mean Girls wasn’t just a silly teen movie — there are simply far too many mean girls in reality, and based on the study’s findings, these girls are just as dangerous as Regina George, if not more.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the kid who eats lunch alone because you have no friends or if you’re part of the cool crowd that’s always throwing ragers, everyone gets picked on in high school — well, except for the prom king and the queen bee, of course. That’s just a universal truth (which is supported by the study’s findings, as well).

Troubling though they are, the study’s findings are also kind of relieving because after all these years of wondering why I was bullied, I finally have an answer.

At first I was to be picked on at school for not being cool. Later, I had all this drama in my life because I was getting too popular, and the other popular kids weren’t OK with the mere possibility of becoming social pariahs by association.

It’s all so clear now: Nobody wins in high school.

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