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(Australian Associated Press)
The spreading of rumours or exclusion by best friends hurt victims more than if the same type of bullying was instigated by someone else, Australian researchers have found.
The study by researchers at Flinders University found bullying can come from surprising quarters – including best friends.
And young victims often tolerated the behaviour because they greatly valued the closeness of their friendship.
The Global Results of Peer Aggression and Wellbeing Study, conducted by Grace Skrzypiec and Mirella Wyra, found it was the less potent instances of bullying that mattered most – with victims identifying the pain of bullying from best friends, such as spreading rumours or exclusion, being especially harmful.
Tolerating such treatment from friends had implications for how young people would conduct themselves in future relationships in their adult lives, the report found.
“When there is an emotional investment in a relationship, bullying from best friends can be explained away by a victim as not being intentional or harmful and as just joking around,” Dr Skrzypiec said.
“However, when the bullying involves being excluded or spreading rumours by a best friend, it is not so easily dismissed and in fact is more harmful to the individual than if they were excluded or had a rumour spread by someone else.
“If there is an emotional investment and trust between young friends, they are dismissive of low-level abuse – or the perpetrators realise they can get away with low levels of abuse.”
Dr Skrzypiec said those experiences could predispose young people to domestic violence, and further research was needed to assess the possibility.
The study, published by the Journal of School Violence, found 65 per cent of students affirmed experiences of peer aggression, with 57.7 per cent saying they had experienced peer aggression that was harmful. The data was sourced from a sample of 6864 students aged 11-16, from 12 countries.
The study found when young people were repeatedly harmed through peer aggression and bullying, one in seven (14.2 per cent) of these victims were also aggressors – perpetuating a vicious cycle of bullying.
Generally, males showed a greater propensity to be involved in peer aggression than females.