It’s time to rethink our image of school bullies.

Because if you ask most people to describe a bully, they’ll probably describe the stereotype we see in movies – meaning, someone who’s big and strong - maybe a jock who pushes smaller kids into lockers – or one of the popular girls. But new research shows that almost anyone can be a bully – including skinny kids, loners, and nerdy girls! And believe it or not, those big jocks that we normally think of as being bullies, are just as likely to be the target of bullying.

That’s the message from Robert Faris, a sociologist who’s led several studies on bullying, involving thousands of students. He says at any given time, more than half of the students he’s surveyed said they were involved in some form of bullying! And most students said they bullied others to become more popular – which explains why even nerdy kids might feel tempted to bully someone.

The problem is the most common forms of bullying are hard to spot. For example, a study from UCLA found that most students bully others by spreading rumors, or insulting people!

And it turns out, researchers say girls are the masters of “covert bullying.”

Because girls tend to put down the way people look, or they’ll go around encouraging friends to ignore certain students! That may not sound like a big deal, but many students say that being isolated - and not “fitting in” – can hurt more than getting a bloody nose from a fight!

That’s why our expert says parents and schools need to be aware of the more subtle forms of bullying, and try to offer more activities that emphasize cooperation over social status. Because studies show that when students aren’t focusing on being popular in school, then they’re much less likely to become bullies.