By CWK Network Producer
“This really affects all of our children – this name-calling, this prejudice, this stigma – not just the 7- 8% that will finally identify as gay or bisexual.”
-Dr. Lynn Ponton, a child psychiatrist-
He lives in a quiet neighborhood, just a few blocks from school. But for 18-year-old Craig, who is openly gay, the walk home is scary.
“Almost every week, it’s people yell [names] out of their car,” he says.
Once, it even came to blows.
“… [J]ust like started harassing me, and pushing me, and calling me [names] and stuff like that,” Craig says.
During that incident, Craig defended himself and even gave the other boy a bloody nose. But his mother worries about the next time.
“I worry that someone could beat him up or hurt him and kill him even. That worries me a lot,” says Joan Piaget, Craig’s mother.
Kids are bullied for all sorts of reasons – their race, weight, how they dress. But according to a study from the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), kids are twice as likely to be bullied because they’re gay, or thought to be gay than any other reason.
“And the impact of this on development is that you close down, your self-esteem drops, you become angry with other people, you don’t trust others – you don’t trust your own sexual feelings,” says Dr. Lynn Ponton, a child psychiatrist.
Dr. Ponton wrote a section of the NMHA study providing advice to parents whose children are teased because they’re gay. Whether children are gay or not, she says, if they’re teased, their parents need to take strong action.
“I would sit down first, hear them out, listen to them,” she says. “Then I would say, ‘We’ll go to the school together. We’ll really work together as a team.’ I would insist that the children who were doing the name-calling – that they be contacted.”
Dr. Ponton says it’s important for parents to take the lead because oftentimes the child will not.
“It’s embarrassing to be called [names] in front of people,” Craig explains. “And it’s embarrassing to go to someone and be like, this happened to me.”
He says it really helps to know his parents support him.
“My parents are wonderful people,” Craig says.
Gay Teens and Violence
The American Journal of Public Health published a national survey that suggests homosexual and bisexual adolescents are at a greater risk for experiencing, witnessing, and taking part in violence. Of the 10,600 students in grades 7-12 who completed the survey, 108 (about 1%) reported they were homosexual, or attracted only to the same sex. 524 (about 5%) said they were bisexual, or attracted to both sexes.
Sexual orientation in adolescents has previously been linked to increased rate of victimization. A prior study in the journal Pediatrics showed that those students who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual had a disproportionate risk for problem behaviors, including suicide and victimization.
The survey showed that homosexual adolescents were nearly twice as likely as straight adolescents to report a history of violent attacks and witnessing violence. In addition, gay and lesbian youth were reported to be 2.5 times more likely to report that they had taken part in violence themselves. Bisexual adolescents reported no increased levels of perpetrating violence, but were more likely than heterosexual adolescents to report witnessing violence or being victimized.
The authors of the study say these results suggest that many gay teens are taking a posture of self-defense against perceived and actual threats. In addition, gay adolescents may be placing themselves in settings where there is a greater likelihood of violence, such as adult gay bars and clubs.
What Parents Need to Know
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) cautions parents that “gay and lesbian teens can become depressed, socially isolated, withdrawn from activities and friends, have trouble concentrating, and develop low self-esteem. They may also develop depression.” It is important for parents of gay and lesbian teens to understand their teen’s sexual orientation and provide support. The AACAP encourages parents and family members to seek understanding and support from organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
The American Psychological Association provides these tips for teens who may fear they are a target of violence:
- Above all, be safe. Don’t spend time alone with people who show warning signs of violence, such as those with a history of frequent physical fights, and those who have announced threats or plans for hurting others.
- Tell someone you trust and respect about your concerns and ask for help ( a family member, guidance counselor, teacher, school physiologist, coach, clergy, or friend)
- Get someone to protect you. Do not resort to violence or use a weapon to protect yourself.
The key thing to remember is, don’t go it alone.