Almost every child will experience some type of bullying sometime during their youth, but not all children are at equal risk of becoming the type of chronic victim that suffers serious damage, nor are all children affected by bullying in the same ways.
A common profile among victims of bullying
Chronic victims of bullying tend to fall into a similar profile and share some of the following traits:
- They are typically highly sensitive, and so they react more vulnerably to taunting, which in turn encourages more bullying.
- They may have trouble making friends or are socially anxious or insecure. This doesn’t mean they’re antisocial or unlikeable, just more shy and timid around peers.
- They are isolated and alone for most of the school day, which leaves them vulnerable to attack.
- They tend to be smaller or weaker than other kids.
- They may come from abusive backgrounds (either verbally or physically), or from high-conflict homes, and so they tend to react passively when others trounce on them.
- They tend to be conflict averse and have a non-aggressive personality, so they typically give in easily or don’t retaliate against hostility.
- They may have a learning disability or other condition that sets them apart from others.
There are also several sub-groups of youth who tend to be frequent targets of bullies:
Sensitive kids are more vulnerable to bullying
Sensitive children make good targets in two ways. First, they are more likely to be affected by the taunting, so a bully gets more ‘bang for their buck.’ The more their deeds impact the victim, the more powerful a bully feels, and so sensitive kids provide better gratification for bullies. Second, they tend to be kids with higher empathy and a conflict-aversive personality. So their natural temperament usually precludes them from retaliation. Being mean or malicious is not part of their personality. So a bully gets an easy target that is unlikely to retaliate. Around 20% of youth are classified as highly sensitive. (Bartz. 2011)
Overweight children are more vulnerable to bullying
Chubby or overweight kids are bullied far more often -than their healthy weight peers. One study of 821 children between the ages of 8 and 11 found that obese children were more likely to be bullied than their normal-weight peers, regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic status, school demographic profile, social skills, or academic achievement. (Hellmich, 2010)
Children with special needs are more vulnerable to bullying
Not only do children with special needs stand out from their peers, which leaves them open to bullying, but their particular needs can also create conflicts, which leads to bullying. Social handicaps such as autism or asperger’s can be particularly troublesome. As Garbarino & deLara (2002, p. 139) state, “social intelligence consists of having an intuitive ability to understand the meaning of social interactions around you. For children without this aptitude, adolescent exchanges can be a nightmare.”
LGBT youth are more vulnerable to bullying
When it comes to sexuality, the United States is one of the least tolerant cultures in the world. (Murdoch, 1960) Kids pick this up from the world around them, and so it’s no surprise that sexuality and sexual orientation (actual or perceived) is the #1 topic of choice when it comes to bullying. Youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are all but assured a life of torment throughout their school years.
Kids in larger schools are more vulnerable to bullying
As a general rule, kids in larger schools (500 + students or more) are more at risk for bullying than youth in smaller schools. Teachers in larger schools are often less focused on individual students and have a harder time knowing about everything that goes on, so it’s easier to get lost in the crowd. The one downside of smaller schools is that when something happens or gossip does occur, everyone knows about it.