The Youngest Victims: Bullying of Sexual Minority Youth
Bullying is generally defined as the intentional and repeated perpetration of aggression over time by a more powerful person against a less powerful person. Existing research has recognized the significance of bullying and the deadly consequences it may have in the teen years. Research from Mark Schuster, MD, and the Boston Children’s Hospital (and published in the highly esteemed New England Journal of Medicine), however, indicates that bullying of youth who may eventually identify as sexual minority youth begins as early as fifth grade.
Schuster said, “What really stands out is that we found that kids who are classified as sexual minorities in tenth grade are bullied and victimized more than their peers not only in tenth grade but also in fifth and seventh grades. The differences are persistent and striking. We would think that in fifth grade, most kids don’t recognize themselves or peers as sexual minorities, yet those who will later identify as sexual minorities are already being bullied more than other kids.”
A representative sample of 4,268 students were surveyed in Los Angeles, Houston, and Birmingham over a period of several years. They were first contacted in fifth grade, and follow up was conducted in seventh and tenth grades.
“Bullying has serious short and long-term consequences, not only physical injury, but also anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress and negative school performance. Bullying targeted at sexual minorities has even more severe negative effects,” said Schuster.
Anti-bullying programs that seek to target younger children should be encouraged. As children become aware of the importance of speaking out against bullying as they see it happening, they can help their peers to become aware of the consequences of their actions.