Curious Parents

When It Comes To Bullies, It's Not You—It's Them

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From navigating cliques to dodging bullies, being a kid can be a tough gig. Rejection can seemingly come out of nowhere—one day you're minding your own business, and the next, you're the cool kid's worst enemy. What makes kids decide to randomly cast out other kids? An April 2017 study chose to explore this phenomenon by delving inside the heads of elementary school rejectors.

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What Does Your Behavior Say About Me?

If the cool kid's randomly placed hate feels completely unfair, that's because it is. As New York Magazine explains, he doesn't dislike you because of you or anything you've done—rather, his hate stems from how he feels about you and what you do.

The study's author, Professor Garcia Bacete, asked more than 800 kids between the ages of 5 and 7 to describe which classmate they disliked the most and why. When comparing the subjects' responses, one major reason stuck out: their classmate's behavior. Children tended to point out things like physical aggression or disruptive behaviors for why they disliked certain classmates. But what the researchers noticed was that it wasn't these behaviors alone that made kids dislike other kids—it was how the kids interpreted the behaviors in the context of their own social group and norms.

"The classmates interpret [the behaviors] as costs to the interpersonal relationships and the group functioning," the researchers write. Kids are in a constant state of finding and declaring their identity. So if they like an aggressive classmate, what will that say about them? If they don't know the new kid, why risk accepting him or her into their group?

Peace On The Playground

This study should be comforting to anyone who has ever felt rejected. In essence, it's not your fault. "Peer rejection is external to the rejected child," the authors write, "that is, what the rejected child does or says does not lead directly or inevitably to rejection." It's not you—it's them. Understanding why kids reject each other creates a huge step forward in the movement against bullying in schools.

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