Why do friends bully friends?

Posted on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Karen Bouchard stands in a playground with a baseball backstop and basketball net in the background. Patches of snow are on the ground.
Education PhD student Karen Bouchard in a screen shot from her three-minute storytelling video explaining her research.
By Mike Foster

University of Ottawa Faculty of Education graduate student Karen Bouchard has won an award for explaining her research into the dark side of teenaged friendships.

Bouchard received an honourable mention in the 2016 SSHRC Storytellers contest for her three-minute video With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies? The annual contest challenges postsecondary students from across Canada to show how their Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded research makes a difference, in just three minutes or 300 words.

A PhD student under the supervision of educational counselling professor David Smith, Bouchard is conducting a study entitled Friendships That Harm, on victimization in adolescent friendships.

Karen Bouchard
Karen Bouchard

The research explores recent findings that more than a quarter of bullying experiences take place within close friendships, but that those affected often continue in the friendship despite suffering.

“I experienced feeling bullied by a friend and, paradoxically, I also felt a tremendous emotional pain when losing that friendship,” Bouchard said. “This prompted my interest in exploring the complexity of harm with friendships.

“I’m interested in how youth navigate being victimized by a close friend, which goes beyond normal healthy relationship functioning. The data I’m collecting is showing that many of these victimized young people are persisting in these friendships — despite their suffering — because ‘it’s better to have a friend who bullies you than no friend at all.’

“It’s really troubling that this is happening, because adolescence is the time when you learn how to have healthy relationships,” she said.

Bouchard, who taught the Counselling Applications in Secondary School teacher education course as a part-time professor, received a $1,000 prize for the honourable mention. She found the contest very useful.

“Creating the video was a great process,” she said. “It forced me to become familiar with technology that has intimidated me.

“It was really difficult articulating my research in just three minutes. It requires you to ask the ‘so what?’ questions of your research. I had to continually trim my study down to its bare essentials to answer two important questions: What is this research really about and why should we care? This is an important exercise for any researcher.”

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