Bullying dampens academic success

U. TEXAS-AUSTIN (US) — The way teenagers deal with being bullied may be advantageous in the short term, but in the long run is disastrous, not only socially, but academically and professionally.

Coping strategies usually interrupt the educational process—including the classes adolescents take and the grades they make, affecting their ability to go to college.


“Because social experiences in high school have such demonstrable effects on academic progress and attending college, the social concerns of teenagers are educational concerns for schools,” says Robert Crosnoe, professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, in a new book, Fitting In, Standing Out.

Feelings of not fitting in lead to increased depression, marijuana use, truancy, and lower academic progress, which lowers students’ odds of going to college.

Girls were 57 percent and boys 68 percent less likely than their peers of the same race, social class, and academic background to attend college if they had feelings of not fitting in Girls who were obese or reported being attracted to the same sex were far more likely to feel they did not fit in and experienced the negative consequences of these feelings.

“Kids who have social problems—often because they are overweight or gay—are at greater risk of missing out on going to college simply because of the social problems they have and how it affects them emotionally,” Crosnoe says, “not because of anything to do with intelligence or academic progress.

“When you feel different because of what is happening to you in high school—real or imagined—that is messing up the identity development process, which is an important part of adolescence.”

For the book, Crosnoe researched national statistics from 132 high schools and spent more than a year inside a high school in Austin with 2,200 students, observing and interviewing teenagers.

He recommends ways that parents, teachers, policymakers, and other adults can ensure the social side of high school supports, that could have significant implications in terms of the health and safety of students, as well as their future health and wellbeing.

Educators and policymakers are increasingly focused on anti-bullying efforts—the White House recently hosting a summit on the issue and Texas lawmakers are considering tough, anti-bullying legislation.

Adults may view bullying as a timeless, ultimately harmless, rite of passage. But recent changes in American society and technology are intensifying this rite, making bullying inescapable and allowing its effects to cascade into adulthood.

“There is a widespread belief among adults that it’s just high school, everybody goes through it, you’ll get over it,” Crosnoe says.

While so much content on television and the Web is about outrageous acts of bullying and physical aggression, much more is hidden in the social warfare of school, Crosnoe says, including backhanded compliments, snubbing, and looks of disapproval and disgust in the hallways.

This is especially true for girls who are obese, who are 78 percent less likely to attend college than non-obese girls, and those who are gay, who are 50 percent less likely to attend college.

“It sounds so silly especially compared to those classic forms of bullying. But these are the things that really matter in the long term because they are subtle. They can get under a teenager’s skin and become a preoccupation causing them to doubt themselves and distracting them from what school is supposed to be about.”

More news from University of Texas at Austin: www.utexas.edu/news/