Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Homophobic Teasing, Psychological Outcomes, and Sexual Orientation among High School Students: What Influence Do Parents and Schools Have?

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Homophobic Teasing, Psychological Outcomes, and Sexual Orientation among High School Students: What Influence Do Parents and Schools Have?

Article excerpt

Abstract. Homophobic teasing is often long-term, systematic, and perpetrated by groups of students (Rivers, 2001); it places targets at risk for greater suicidal ideation, depression, and isolation (Elliot & Kilpatrick, 1994). This study fills a gap in the literature by examining buffering influences of positive parental relations and positive school climate on mental health outcomes for high school students who are questioning their sexual orientation. Participants were 13,921 high school students from a Midwestern U.S. public school district. Students completed a survey consisting of a wide range of questions related to their school experiences (bullying, homophobia, school climate), parental support, mood, and drug-alcohol use. Students were categorized into three groups: (a) youth who identified as heterosexual, (b) youth who questioned their sexual orientation, and (c) youth who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). As hypothesized, sexual minority youth were more likely to report high levels of depression-suicide feelings and alcohol-marijuana use; students who were questioning their sexual orientation reported more teasing, greater drug use, and more feelings of depression and suicide than either heterosexual or LGB students. Sexually questioning students who experienced homophobic teasing were also more likely than LGB students to use drugs-alcohol and rate their school climate and rate their school climate as negative. Finally, positive school climate and parental support protected LGB and questioning students against depression and drug use.

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To lead a productive, psychologically healthy life, all individuals must master particular developmental tasks during their adolescent years (Brown, 2002; Radkowsky & Siegel, 1997). According to Radkowsky & Siegel, (1997), these tasks include "adjusting to the physical and emotional changes of puberty, establishing effective social and working relationships with peers, achieving independence from primary caretakers, preparing for a vocation, and moving toward a sense of values and definable identity" (p. 191). The development of a secure identity, a positive sense of self, and the capability to merge with another in a truly intimate relationship had earlier been identified by McAnarney (1985) as the ultimate goal of adolescence. However, for youth who are gay or questioning their sexual orientation, achieving these tasks can be difficult because of the stigmatization of homosexuality. Oftentimes, these youth are attempting to develop their identities without the support of various social systems including family, peers, and schools (Morrison & L'Heureux, 2001; Radkowsky & Siegel, 1997). As Murdock and Bolch (2005) report, victimization by peers is one of the strongest predictors of school disengagement for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning youth. Mufioz-Plaza, Quinn, and Rounds (2002) describe the classroom as "the most homophobic of all social institutions" (p. 53). Homophobic teasing is one form through which victimization frequently occurs for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning youth in school settings, placing these individuals at risk for greater suicidal ideation, depression, and isolation (Elliot & Kilpatrick, 1994).

Parents and school administrators are often reluctant to ask direct questions about sexual orientation, and youth, not surprisingly, are often hesitant about identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). It is thought that the conservative nature of American schools and families has lead to the fact that much of the ground-breaking scholarship in this area is being conducted outside of the United States (Hillier & Rosenthal, 2001). U.S.-based studies have focused on prevalence rates and the direct relation between experiencing homophobia and psychological outcomes, with virtually none examining potential protective factors for youth who are questioning their sexual orientation in a heterosexist culture (Savin-Williams, 2001), even though sexually questioning youth have been identified as a group of young people with various needs for support (Hollander, 2000). …

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