Study: Sexual Minority Kids More Likely To Be Bullied — As Early As 5th Grade

A new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital paints a bleak picture of the social lives of many kids who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual: As early as fifth grade, researchers report, these sexual minority youth are far more likely than their peers to be bullied.

This ongoing victimization (defined in the study as at least once a week over the course of a year) can have short-term consequences, of course, but can also lead to problems down the road. Those long-term troubles include, for instance, “anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress and negative school performance,” according to the study’s lead author, Mark Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of general pediatrics at the children’s hospital and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

For the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers interviewed over 4,000 fifth graders and followed up with the kids again in seventh and 10th grade. In an accompanying video Schuster offers this takeaway:

What we found is that the kids who were sexual minorities were more likely to report bullying in all three grades, in 5th grade, 7th grade and 10th grade, and this was true for the boys and the girls. What was particularly striking, in 5th grade, before most of these kids would even be aware of their own sexual orientation, their own identity, or the orientation of their peers, they’re already being bullied more…

That really stood out, and it suggests that these kids, by the time they’re in 10th grade they’ve been bullied and bullied and bullied over many years.

In this context, bullying is defined as “the intentional and repeated perpetration of aggression over time by a more powerful person against a less powerful person.” In the study, researchers suggest that screening for “bullying experiences” should become more commonplace:

“Our findings underscore the importance of clinicians routinely screening youth for bullying experiences, remaining vigilant about indicators of possible bullying (e.g., unexplained trauma and school avoidance), and creating a safe environment in which youth feel comfortable discussing their sexuality. Further research could determine the effectiveness of incorporating the experiences of sexual minorities into general school-based anti-bullying programs.”

So how can parents help? In an interview Schuster offers this:

There are several things parents should be doing: creating an environment in the household where their kids feel comfortable being open with them, and an environment where the kids feel unconditional love. One of the places kids learn to bully is from watching adults around them; kids learn from their parents. So if a neighbor’s name comes up and he’s known to be gay and dad does the limp wrist thing, or mocks the neighbor, and the kid observes that, the kid learns it’s OK to mock based on who they are. It also sends a message that if there’s a gay child in the house who is not out, the message is that the kind of person dad is scorning or mocking is not just the neighbor but also the child, and that’s a terrible experience for a child, to feel that their own parent would reject them. Continue reading

Study: Bullying By Siblings May Double Risk Of Depression, Self-Harm

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

By Nicole Tay
CommonHealth intern

When I was growing up, I used to complain about the loneliness of being an only child. “I want an older brother like Mandy!” I would plead to my parents. I just wanted an older, cooler playmate; I never considered the potential downside.

Now, at 22, I’ve heard my share of horror stories; the sibling bullies who called my friends “butt face” or “stupid” or “brat;” the burnt Barbie dolls; the bag of caterpillars dumped on my poor friend’s head.

Is sibling bullying just a harmless rite of passage — or can it actually entail developmental repercussions?

A new study published today by the American Academy of Pediatrics targets that very question. After surveying more than 6,900 young people in the UK, researchers found that victims of frequent sibling bullying were twice as predisposed to depression, anxiety, and self-harm in young adulthood as non-bullied controls. This British-based study comes on the heels of similar findings in an American study last year. From the paper:

Of the 786 children who reported that they had been bullied by a sibling several times a week (55.3% female), depression was reported by 12.3% at age 18 years, self-harm occurred in 14.1%, and anxiety was reported by 16.0%.

And from the abstract: Continue reading

Study: Bullying Toll May Linger For Years, Leading To ‘Substantially’ Worse Health



Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston report that children who have been bullied suffer not only the immediate blow of humiliation or worse, but that the toll of such childhood insults may linger for years — particularly if the bullying re-occurs — and lead to dramatically worse mental and physical health.

The negative impacts of chronic bullying may accumulate and snowball, researchers report, with ongoing bullying associated with greater depression symptoms in kids and lower self-worth over time.

From the study, “Peer Victimization in Fifth Grade and Health in Tenth Grade,” published in the journal Pediatrics:

We analyzed data from 4297 children surveyed at 3 time points (fifth, seventh, and tenth grades) in 3 cities. We used multivariable regressions to test longitudinal associations of bullying with mental and physical health by comparing youth who experienced bullying in both the past and present, experienced bullying in the present only, experienced bullying in the past only, or did not experience bullying.

RESULTS: Bullying was associated with worse mental and physical health, greater depression symptoms, and lower self-worth over time. Continue reading

Bullying At Home: Aggressive Siblings Hurt Mental Health, Study Finds

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

True story: My older brother tormented me quite a bit as I was growing up, and my parents would mete out frequent discipline, but when we were visiting my grandparents and I’d complain, “He hit me!” my grandfather would joke dismissively: “It was a love tap!”

Funny. Sure didn’t feel like love.

These days, laudable anti-bullying programs abound in the nation’s schools. But the anti-bullying movement seems to have an odd blind spot when it comes to bullying at home.

A new study just out in the journal “Pediatrics” addresses that gap, using findings from a national survey of children and their caregivers. It found that, just like bullying by peers, bullying by siblings causes significant mental distress and worsens the victims’ emotional health. Bottom line:

The authors concluded that parents, pediatricians and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful, and not dismiss it as normal, minor, or even beneficial, and this message should be included in parenting education.

Corinna Jenkins Tucker, associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire and the paper’s lead author, suggests that it’s time for the new norms that condemn school bullying to stop making an exception for siblings.

Sibling aggression has “generally gone unrecognized and dismissed,” she said in a phone interview. “Our findings suggest that it should not be dismissed and it’s in fact not benign.” Continue reading

When The Bullies Are Grown-Ups

Aaron Swartz (ragesoss/flickr)

Aaron Swartz (ragesoss/flickr)

Last night, our school principal briefed our Parent Teacher Organization on the program that will teach our children about bullying: Not to do it, to speak up if they see it happening and to be sure to tell an adult about it.

Tell an adult? With computer prodigy Aaron Swartz’s suicide still echoing in my mind, I wondered: But what if the bully is an adult? Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig says that Swartz was “driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying.” Civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate tells WBUR’s David Boeri in his report today that the government “terrorized this young man.” Emily Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate, writes similarly that Swartz “was on the receiving end of blatant prosecutorial intimidation.”

Bazelon has a deep background in the legal world and is about to publish a book on bullying,  “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character.” So I asked if her research might shed any light on legal bullying. Does the current thinking on bullying among kids address what to do in a case like Swartz’s?

Her reply:

When it’s a prosecutor who is acting like a bully, schoolyard lessons aren’t really relevant. The power imbalance isn’t psychological or based on social status — it’s real, backed by the threat of prison or other criminal punishment. And it’s not something a defendant has any control over.

I do think there’s a lesson, though, about the role of the passive bystander —- and especially, bystanders, plural. Individual members of the public can’t change prosecutorial practices. But collectively, we can demand changes. Prosecutors work for the government—which means they work for us.

Those collective demands for changes seem to have begun. The Boston Herald reports on a petition to remove U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz: Continue reading

A Third Of Kids With Food Allergies Bullied: What Grown-Ups Can Do

(H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons)

(H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons)

The journal “Pediatrics” reports today that nearly one third of children with food allergies are bullied for it. From the press release:

Researchers surveyed 251 parent and child pairs to see if they have experienced bullying related to their food allergies. The results show that 31.5 percent of these children report being bullied, and threats frequently involved food. Children who report being bullied, and their parents, had higher stress levels and lower quality of life. Of those surveyed, approximately half the parents reported being aware of bullying.

The study confirms earlier findings that kids — and adults — can be real jerks about allergies. We posted a similar study in 2010 reporting that “approximately 35 percent of children with food allergies over age five have experienced bullying, teasing, or harassment as a result of their allergies. Of those, the study says, 86 percent experienced repeated episodes, with classmates being the most common perpetrators. But beyond that, more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff, according to the findings published in the medical journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.”

I spoke today with Dr. Mark Schuster of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, co-author of an accompanying editorial in Pediatrics whose title begins, “Did the Ugly Duckling Have PTSD?” Our conversation, lightly edited:

You discuss the important role that parents and other adults can play in helping to stop bullying. How exactly should we talk to our kids who don’t have allergies about the kids who do?

The first thing is for parents to take allergies seriously. It’s very easy for parents to just react with annoyance that they can’t send their kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich. It’s understandable why parents feel constrained by restrictions due to allergies, but if their child doesn’t have an allergy they often don’t understand just how serious it can be. Some kids really can go into anaphylactic shock from touching someone else’s peanut butter cookie and die at school.

So it’s important for parents of kids who do not have allergies to be respectful of the seriousness of a child who does have an allergy. A parent might try asking a child without an allergy: “What is your favorite food? How would it feel if you could never eat that food ever again? And if you did eat that food, it would kill you?” Continue reading

Gay In America: High School’s Bad But It Gets Better, Says Sex Columnist Dan Savage

A college freshman jumps off the George Washington Bridge after being videotaped having a gay sexual encounter. A Bronx man, suspected of being gay, is tortured by a gang of young men who use box cutters, a plunger handle, burning cigarettes and a baseball bat on their victim.

Enough, says Dan Savage, author, sex columnist, father and wise observer of life. He and his partner Terry started a site called, “It Gets Better,” to share stories about growing up gay, to tell others how they too were tormented as kids, and to talk about how it gets better. Sometimes, it even gets better the very day high school ends.

Mr. Savage speaks to Here and Now’s Robin Young about the It Gets Better project and offers a powerful message to gay kids who are suffering, isolated and feeling hopeless.

Kids With Food Allergies Are Often Victims Of Bullying, Research Finds

Bullies prey on kids with food allergies

In the first-of-its-kind study, researchers have pinpointed a troubling social trend: children who suffer from food allergies are very often suffering at the hands of school bullies as well. But it gets worse: not only are these kids teased and harassed by other classmates, but they are also being taunted by teachers who perhaps don’t fully understand their plight.

What is going on here?

Doctors at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York report that approximately 35 percent of children with food allergies over age five have experienced bullying, teasing, or harassment as a result of their allergies. Of those, the study says, 86 percent experienced repeated episodes, with classmates being the most common perpetrators. But beyond that, more than 20 percent reported harassment or teasing from teachers and other school staff, according to the findings published in the medical journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Scott Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai and the study’s lead author, suggests that much of the bullying here is due to ignorance about what food allergies are all about. “It’s a situation that’s mysterious to the outside person,” Dr. Sicherer said in an interview. “The kid thinks, ‘I can eat everything,’ but that kid over there is always worried and anxious about eating — that makes him different and it’s that difference that might lead the first kid to test the waters with teasing and harassment.”

The adult taunts are perhaps more subtle. Dr. Sicherer says that clueless teachers might inadvertently be contributing to the problem. “Maybe the teacher says, ‘We were going to have a birthday party today with cake, but since Johnny here can’t eat it, we’re having apples instead.'”

Perhaps most disturbing is that in several reported cases of bullying, the specific allergen was used by the bully against his victim. Indeed, Dr. Sicherer says he’s seen bullied patients who say another kid smeared peanut butter on the water fountain, making it unusable for the allergic child. “From these reports,” researchers write, “it is clear that bullying, teasing, and harassment may pose a concern to food-allergic patients and their parents from a psychological and possibly a physical standpoint.”