There are a couple of issues here, so let’s start by getting our terms straight. Bullying has been much ballyhooed in the press, but most people have only a vague notion of what it is. Most of the time when one person is crappy or mean to another, it is not bullying; it’s being a jerk.
There is broad academic consensus that bullying involves three things.
- The recipient is exposed to something unwanted or damaging (insult, harassment, violence, etc.)
- It happens repeatedly over time, and
- There is a power difference between the bully and the bullied.
There is some disagreement over the fine details, but that need not concern us here.
Now, what do I mean by “sexual minority children”? We can start with a string of letters (constantly being challenged and changed) LGTBQ. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer. The T is sometimes read as Transsexual or Two-Spirited, and the Q is sometimes rendered as Questioning. And sometimes, the letters are repeated, or other letters may be proposed. Again, it’s easy to get the general idea of who we are talking about.
With that established, let’s talk about a recent study conducted at the Boston Children’s Hospital, and reported as a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study was a longitudinal look at students as they passed through 5th, 7th and 10th grade. The results, while unsurprising, are important.
As early as 5th grade, before most youth are likely to be aware of or to disclose their sexual orientation, girls and boys who 5 years later were considered to be sexual minorities on the basis of self-reported information were more likely than other children to report that they had been bullied and victimized (figure 1). Although bullying and victimization in the two groups declined with age, a finding that is consistent with prior research, sexual-minority youth experienced higher levels across grades than other children did.
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.5 Further research could determine the effectiveness of incorporating the experiences of sexual minorities into general school-based antibullying programs.
I propose that if we are to protect children from this type of bullying, we need to open the windows wide. We need to shine light on humanity in its beautiful and wonderful variety, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Students need to know, from a very early age, that we come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours, likes and dislikes, orientations and identities. And they need to know that it’s ok. Not only are you ok as you are, so is the person in the desk across from you. And we’re in it together.
And the only way to do this is to talk about sexuality frankly, honestly and respectfully. Some of our practices of caring for one another are probably innate; but we need to learn a lot just to keep each other safe and whole.
I am a teacher. For everyone in this room. And that means you.