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Bullying of Gay/Lesbian Teens: Expert Q&A

Questions Raised by Cyberbullying That May Have Led to Suicide of Rutgers Student
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Why do people single out LGBT youth for harassment/bullying?

Michell:

I am not sure how much it is about being someone who is gay or lesbian as it is about being someone who is vulnerable. This student from Rutgers seemed shy and reclusive. And such kids are easier to pick on and become more easily targeted. A kid with a thousand friends is not going to be bullied as easily as a kid socially disconnected with his peers.

If an LGBT youth is harassed or bullied, what should he/she do?

Michell:

What happened to the student in New Jersey is an invasion of privacy, and that is illegal. Certainly teenagers should report illegal acts to the authorities.

There's a problem, though, with this easy answer, to just talk to the adults about it. Obviously these kids don't feel comfortable about who they are, so chances are they are not going to feel comfortable telling an adult about it. But they should nevertheless talk to their school counselor about it, and schools have to be active in taking a strong stance against bullying.

If the bullying constitutes harassment, it should be reported. But if it is no more than being called stupid or something -- and this part is hard for kids to hear -- the more kids ignore it, the faster it will pass.

What should parents do if their child is being harassed/bullied for being -- or being called -- gay or lesbian?

Michell: 

That is complicated. You have to realize it is common among schoolboys to call each other gay without a kid being gay.

But if parents feel their child may be struggling with his or her sexual orientation, they should be willing to listen and convey to their child that whatever he or she is, is OK with them. Because that ultimately is what matters the most. If a child feels he or she is gay and the parents are comfortable with it -- that counts more to the child than anything.

But if the parents already know their child is gay, with the teen's knowledge and consent they should have a talk with the school.

Fassler:

There are lots of ways parents can help a child who is being bullied.  These include:

  • Create an open, honest, and supportive environment.  Encourage your child to talk about what’s happening.  Don’t blame them for the harassment.  Let them know that you’ll help them figure out what to do.
  • Encourage your child to be assertive rather than aggressive when confronted by a bully. Suggest walking away to avoid the bully or seeking help from a teacher, coach, or other adult.
  • Help your child practice what to say to a bully so he or she will be prepared. 
  • If the bullying is occurring at school, talk to your child’s teacher, guidance counselor, or principal sooner, rather than later. Schools now realize that bullying is a serious issue. Most have implemented specific policies and procedures to intervene as early as possible.
  • Encourage your child to travel with friends when going to and from school, during shopping trips, or on other outings.  Bullies are less likely to pick on a child in a group. 

If your child shows signs of stress, anxiety, or depression, get an evaluation by a trained and qualified mental health professional.  Such signs may include trouble eating or sleeping, irritability, reduced energy, or reluctance to go to school.  Some children may also react to stress with increased physical complaints including headaches or stomachaches.

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