Half of Youth Who ID as LGBT Say They're Bullied Online

Filed under: In The News, Bullying, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

More than half the nation's nonheterosexual kids are victims of cyberbullying, often with devastating emotional effects.

An online survey conducted by researchers at Iowa State University showed that 54 percent of nonheterosexual youth are regularly cyberbullied, and more than a quarter of the victims consider suicide as a result. The results of the survey are set to be published later this month in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy.

Of the 444 students who filled out the online questionnaire, 350 identified themselves as nonheterosexual in some form, either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered [LGBT] or questioning their sexuality. They were all between the ages of 11 and 22 and were in junior high school, high school or college. Of those who identified themselves as non-heterosexual, 45 percent said cyberbullying had left them feeling depressed, 38 percent felt embarrassment, 28 percent were anxious about going to school and 26 percent had had suicidal thoughts, the survey says.

The effects of bullying can last for decades, something the study's lead author, Warren Blumenfeld, an ISU assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, tells ParentDish he has firsthand experience.

Blumenfeld says he was bullied for years as a child and now, at age 62, still bears the scars.

"I was diagnosed about 15 years ago as having post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder," he says, explaining that he can't go into crowded rooms and has to sit in the back of movie theaters because he's afraid someone will flick his ear. "It really interferes with my social engagement."

The study was co-authored by Robyn Cooper, a research and evaluation scientist at ISU's Research Institute for Studies in Education.

Cyberbullying, which happens through Web sites, chat rooms, e-mail, cell phones and instant messaging, is particularly hard to combat because it can be almost invisible to the adults around its victims. It includes electronic distribution of embarrassing pictures and the spreading of false or private information.

The virtual assaults can be particularly demoralizing because victims feel they have nowhere to turn, researchers report. Even if they told their parents about the bullying, 40 percent of the LGBT respondents said, their parents wouldn't believe them. Also, more than half feared their parents might restrict their access to technology -- particularly worrisome for LGBT youth because it is often their only connection to similarly minded peers.

The LGBT youth say there's little adults can do to help them anyway: 55 percent said their parents couldn't do anything to stop it, and 57 percent said school officials would be equally powerless. One in four said they needed to learn how to handle the problem themselves.

Peers should step in and do more to stop the attacks, 80 percent of people responding to the survey said, and schools should offer training sessions to teach and encourage bystanders to step in when they see instances of bullying.

Bullying can't be seen as something that happens between an attacker and a victim, but must be looked at within the context of a community, Blumenfeld says.

"This is a constellation; everyone is an actor in the drama of bullying," Blumenfeld tells ParentDish.

Related: Cyber-Bully Lori Drew Aquitted

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.