Research — 02 September 2015

Teenagers get more upset over being “left out’’ of games, groups or parties than if they are physically bullied, new research shows.

A study of 10,273 Victorian high school students in grades 7, 9 and 11 has found that social ­exclusion is more likely than physical bullying to cause emotional distress among teenagers.

Teens find exclusion to be even more upsetting than name-calling or rumour-mongering. But social exclusion often goes undetected or is downplayed by parents and teachers, the ­researchers found.

One in seven teenagers reported being deliberately left out of peers’ activities, compared to nearly one in three who were teased or called names, and one in 10 who were physically harmed. The study’s lead author, Hannah Thomas of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Clinical Research, said covert ­exclusion could be hard to ­detect. “Adolescents can use it to really get others off-side and push others away, to exert dominance and power in a peer group,’’ she said. “Social exclusion has been seen as a normal part of the pains of peer relationships but it is very upsetting for young people.’’

Ms Thomas said schools had worked hard to stamp out physical bullying, but needed to discourage social exclusion as well.

The research, by the University of Queensland and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, is published in the latest issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

It shows that girls get most distressed when peers spread rumours. “Indirect forms of aggression such as social ­exclusion may be an alternative strategy to ­direct aggression ­because it may be less likely to invoke negative consequences for the perpetrator,’’ the study concludes.

“Social exclusion is a behaviour that is subtle … and therefore less likely to prompt a response from an adult. This may result in the behaviour persisting for longer than other forms of bullying and makes self-defence more difficult, increasing the consequent stress and isolation.’’

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists said teenagers bonded strongly with their peers, so felt hurt when left out of activities or friendship groups.

“Developmentally, your peers become more important to you than your parents and this peaks in the 15 to 17-year age group,’’ said Nick Kowalenko, chairman of the faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry.

“We know that bullying ­increases rates of depression threefold.’’

A survey of 6300 families ­revealed last month that one in seven children and teenagers has a mental health disorder.

This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 2 September 2015.

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