Bullying has become an epidemic among American youth. Adolescents are especially vulnerable to the negative mental and academic effects of bullying. “Name-calling, which can involve homophobic epithet use, is the most frequent form of victimization experienced by sexual minority youth,” said V. Paul Poteat of the Department of Counseling, Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College, and lead author of a recent study examining the pattern of bullying throughout the high school years. “Being called these epithets is associated with elevated mental health concerns and lower sense of school belonging for sexual minority and heterosexual youth.” Additionally, students who report being victimized also exhibit poorer academic performance and increased truancy and absenteeism as a result of the patterns associated with bullying behaviors. Poteat said, “The identification of these patterns of change is critical to develop effective programs to counter this behavior, provide adequate resources, and foster environments that promote the psychological, social, and academic development of students.”
Poteat and his colleagues examined victimization and bullying patterns to determine how they changed over time and how they impacted overall academic and social success. The researchers followed 380 high school students and found that the frequency of bullying and victimization increased for boys over the four year period, while it decreased for girls. “Also, variability in students’ own bullying and victimization across assessments corresponded with variability in their use of homophobic epithets and being called these epithets,” said Poteat. “Further, students who reported overall higher tendencies to bully or to be victimized than others also reported more often using and being called homophobic epithets during their first semester of high school.” This study is the first of its kind to look at the relationship between victimization, bullying and homophobic epithets. “Moreover, attention to variability in homophobic bullying and victimization experiences and how these relate to varying patterns and fluctuations in students’ mental health or academic performance and school belonging over time is needed.” Poteat added, “Continued research in this area is critical in order to inform efforts to foster safer and more welcoming schools, to encourage diversity-affirming attitudes and behaviors among students, and to promote academic achievement for all students.”
Poteat, V. P., O’Dwyer, L. M., & Mereish, E. H. (2011, December 19). Changes in How Students Use and Are Called Homophobic Epithets Over Time: Patterns Predicted by Gender, Bullying, and Victimization Status. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026437
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