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Why Kids Get Bullied

Why Kids Get BulliedChildren and teens who suffer at the hands of a bully appear to be more likely to have three behavior characteristics that set them apart from kids who don’t get bullied. All three behaviors have to do with the ability to proper identify and react appropriately to nonverbal communications.

The three factors identified by researchers are:

  • Reading nonverbal cues;
  • Understanding their social meaning; and
  • Coming up with options for resolving a social conflict

Although we traditionally think of communication comprising only verbal communication — what we say — nonverbal behaviors actually make up the majority of communications between two people. Nonverbal behaviors are things such as gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions and such.

It’s estimated that between 10 to 13 percent of school-age children experience some form of rejection by their peers in the U.S. Bullying and related problems — such as social isolation — can increase the likelihood a child will get poor grades, suffer from depression or anxiety, drop out of school, or develop a drug problem, the researchers noted in the study.

“Children’s ability to develop positive peer relationships is critical to their well-being,” said Dr. Clark McKown, study principal investigator and associate executive director and research director at the Rush Neurobehavioral Center.

Findings from the pair of studies indicate that the ability to pick up on non-verbal cues and social cues in social interaction as well as recognize the meaning and respond appropriately to them are key to helping children develop skills to maintain friendships and avoid a host of problems in later life.

“Compared to children who are accepted by their peers, socially rejected children are at substantially elevated risk for later adjustment troubles.”

Researchers observed two groups of children. One was a random sample of 158 children in the Chicago school system. The other group was a random sample of 126 clinic-referred children.

The studies indicate that some children have difficulty picking up on non-verbal or social cues.

According to McKown, “They simply don’t notice the way someone’s shoulders slump with disappointment, or hear the change in someone’s voice when they are excited, or take in whether a person’s face shows anger or sadness.”

A second major factor is that some children may pick up on non-verbal or social cues, but lack the ability to attach meaning to them. The third factor is the ability to reason about social problems.

“Some children may notice social cues and understand what is happening, but are unable to do the social problem solving to behave appropriately,” said McKown.

A child who can take in social cues, recognize their meaning and respond appropriately, and who is capable of “self- regulating,” or controlling behavior, is more likely to have successful relationships.

“The number of children who cannot negotiate all these steps, and who are at risk of social rejection, is startling,” said McKown.

Nearly 13 percent of the school age population, or roughly four million children nationwide, have social-emotional learning difficulties.

For some time, behavioral scientists have known the social costs associated with this problem. Illinois is one of a handful of states which require school districts to assess and monitor the social-emotional learning needs of its students.

“Because it is not known exactly which behaviors set a child up for failure, or how to measure these skills, it was difficult to provide support,” said McKown. “Now, it will be possible to pinpoint which abilities a child needs to develop and offer help.”

According to researchers at Rush, the results of the studies could potentially help develop tests to assess for social-emotional learning that are easy to administer and scientifically sound.

The results from the studies are published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Source: Rush NeuroBehavioral Center

Why Kids Get Bullied

Psych Central News Editor

APA Reference
News Editor, P. (2015). Why Kids Get Bullied. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2018, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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