Stories about: bullying

‘It’s our job to create a safe environment’: Mark Schuster on the bullying of gay youth

Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of General Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, led a first-of-its-kind longitudinal study on the bullying of gay, lesbian and bisexual young people.

Fourteen-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn, 15-year-old Jadin Bell and 18-year-old Tyler Clementi were all teenagers who committed suicide after being bullied for being gay. There have been many similar stories reported around the country, but until now, little research has existed to help understand the backdrop to tragic outcomes like these.

A new study, published today in the New England Journal of Medicine and led by Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of General Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, who is also the William Berenberg Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, sheds light on the bullying and victimization experiences of sexual minority youth (that is, youth who are lesbian, gay or bisexual) from elementary school to high school. Bullying is generally defined as the intentional and repeated perpetration of aggression over time by a more powerful person against a less powerful person. The study, the only one on this topic to follow a representative sample of young people in the United States over several years, surveyed 4,268 students in Birmingham, Houston and Los Angeles in fifth grade and again in seventh and tenth grades.

Schuster and his colleagues found that girls and boys who were identified in tenth grade as sexual minorities were more likely than their peers to be bullied or victimized as early as fifth grade, and this pattern continued into high school.

We sat down with Dr. Schuster to discuss this important study and its implications.

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The snowball effect of bullying

It’s no secret that the longer a person is exposed to situations that are harmful to her health, the worse the outcomes could be—like living with a heavy smoker or growing up in a home with lead paint. And according to new research from Boston Children’s Hospital, bullying should be added to the list of experiences that take a greater toll on health the longer a child is exposed to it.

A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that children who undergo bullying over a long course of time have worse mental and physical health—including showing more symptoms of depression and a lower sense of self-worth—compared with kids who are being bullied for the first time, were only bullied in the past or those who have never been bullied at all.

While much has been done to prove the negative consequences of bullying, this is the first study to look at its compounding effects over many years.

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Schools can’t prevent bullying alone—parents, teachers need to get on bus

The suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick in September in the wake of repeated cyberbullying is a tragic and timely reminder of bullying’s consequences. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which means schools across the U.S. are rolling out skits, posters and even apps to raise awareness and prevent bullying. However, the practice is pervasive; in 2009, one in five high school students admitted being bullied at school.

Yet, a recent study suggests that bullying prevention programs help bullies hone their harassment skills. Has this study delivered a knock-out blow to these efforts?

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Why—and how—parents need to talk to their kids about same-sex relationships

As a parent, how comfortable are you talking about same-sex marriage? Or about sexual orientation?

In March, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement supporting same-sex marriage, because it’s good for children to have two married parents. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), saying it was unconstitutional—meaning that same-sex couples are eligible for the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. And last week the AAP encouraged pediatricians to create a more welcoming and supportive environment in their offices for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth. In that report, they said,

“Pediatricians should be available to answer questions, to correct misinformation, and to provide the context that being LGBTQ is normal, just different.”

Normal. That is the important—and remarkable—word.

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