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Bullying is a real threat to gay and bisexual teens

“Sexual-minority” youth are at higher risk of bullying than heterosexual peers, and may, as a result, score low on several key indicators of positive development, a new study finds.

“This research quantifies how bullying hinders sexual-minority youths’ access to the essential building blocks of health and well-being,” says lead author Robert W.S. Coulter, a doctoral student in the behavioral and community health sciences department at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Anti-bullying policies at schools are necessary but insufficient. Multifaceted interventions in all arenas, including schools, families, and communities, should focus on building more accepting and supportive environments for sexual-minority youth.”

For the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers used data from a survey of 1,870 adolescents at US schools and after-school programs in 45 states that measured positive youth development using the “Five Cs” model, which assesses competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring/compassion.

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Higher levels of the Five Cs are associated with positive contributions to society, and lower levels are linked to myriad risky behaviors, including cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and younger sexual initiation. The survey also asked participants whether they had been bullied several times in the past several months.

Of the participants, 127—or 6.8 percent—were identified as sexual-minority youth—those who report having both-gender attractions or same-gender attractions only. Nearly 24 percent of them reported being a victim of bullying, compared with 12 percent of the heterosexual youths.

The sexual-minority youths scored significantly lower than their heterosexual counterparts in three of the Five Cs: competence, defined as having a positive view of one’s actions in social, academic, cognitive and vocational arenas; confidence, defined as an internal sense of overall positive self-worth; and connection, defined as having supportive and positive bonds with peers, family, school, and community.

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“However, when we adjusted our models to control for the effects of bullying victimization, the differences in scores between sexual-minority and heterosexual youths reduced,” Coulter says. “This suggests that bullying partly explains why sexual-minority youth had lower competence, confidence, and connection.”

But, bullying is not the only factor causing lower positive youth development scores for sexual-minority youths, Coulter says.

“Bullying is only one part of the story. It is one manifestation of more pervasive problems, such as stigma and discrimination. We need to take a holistic approach to positive youth development and create evidence-based programs that bring about a cultural change, allowing all youths, regardless of their sexual orientation, the same opportunity to thrive.”

The National 4-H Council and the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse supported the work.

Source: University of Pittsburgh