What Research Says About Emotional Teen Bullying and Peer Rejection

Perhaps there is more emphasis on bullying in recent years because of the school shootings that have taken place over the last decade. Parents, teachers, and administrators begin to wonder why students become violent, destructive, and explosive. Perhaps some of this has to do with the malicious comments made in the hallways, the physical bullying that takes place after school, or simply the environment of competiveness that many schools possess.


Yet, emotional teen bullying, name-calling, and eating away at another student’s self esteem make up the quintessential experience of middle and high school. Although it’s not healthy, it’s a form of student-to-student interaction that has taken place for decades. The good news is that psychologists and sociologists are beginning to study student relationships more in depth. Rather than taking it for granted or dismissing it as the expected experience for a child, mental health professional organizations are beginning to take it seriously.


Bullying is the overt behavior of a teen to belittle a child, teen, or adult and to make that person feel inadequate. It can include harassment, physical harm, demeaning speech and efforts to ostracize that person. Bullying is an active behavior and is done with intention to harm another, whether physically or emotionally. The bully often expresses aggression because he or she feels jealous, insecure, out of control, or simply, not good enough. The target is the recipient of a bully’s aggression. Often, the target feels as though he or she deserves the harsh treatment, that it’s his or her fault, or feels powerless. Teaching him or her to take back control in order to stop the teen bullying can at times be effective.


The research born out of studying the effects of physical and emotional bullying is enlightening. For instance, a 2006 study of 380 students from ages five to 11 years old found that children rejected by their peers are more likely to withdraw from classroom activities and suffer academically. Peer rejection was the strong predictor, according to this study, of a child’s academic success.


What’s interesting is that when children get a little older. Those children who did the most gossiping and emotional abuse were well liked by their peers. However, those same children later in their academic career were not popular among their peers. Popularity and likeability were negatively correlated to gossiping and emotional abuse. The study showed that by high school, negative gossip turns kids off and loses its social power.


Knowing this information can help teachers and parents deal with difficult interaction and teen bullying among peers. For instance, instead of punishing the aggressor or the victim, a parent or teacher might not blame the victim and instead attempt to find the cause of the problem, which is often some form of rejection. Furthermore, an aggressor might also be the victim of a peer rejection and expressing his or her anger or hurt by being emotionally abusive.




American Psychological Association. (March 29, 2006). Schoolyard Blues: Impact of Gossip and Bullying. Retrieved on July 16, 2014 from: http://www.apa.org/research/action/blues.aspx