While many children are bullied, previous studies have suggested that children who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are bullied more than their peers. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that this bullying has a significant impact on sexual-minority youth development.

Past research has found that sexual-minority adolescents report worse mental health, less adult support, and lower academic achievements than heterosexuals. However, to the researcher’s knowledge, no one has holistically examined how sexual-orientation impacted youth development by using the Five Cs model, which assesses competence, confidence, connection, character and caring compassion, according to the recent study.

Researchers found that sexual minority youth, or those who reported having same- or both-gender sexual attractions, scored lower on key indicators of youth development based on the Five Cs model compared to their heterosexual peers. They believe this disparity may be due in part to bullying.

Higher levels of the Five Cs are linked positively with contributions to society, while lower levels are linked to several health risk behaviors, including cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and early sexual initiation, which has been linked to an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.

"This research quantifies how bullying hinders sexual-minority youths' access to the essential building blocks of health and well-being," lead author Robert W.S. Coulter, Public Health's Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, said in a statement. "Anti-bullying policies at schools are necessary but insufficient. Multifaceted interventions in all arenas, including schools, families and communities, should focus on building more accepting and supportive environments for sexual-minority youth.”

Using data from a survey of 1,870 adolescents at U.S. schools and after-school programs in 45 states, researchers found that sexual minority youth — who made up 6.8 percent of the sample — scored significantly lower than their heterosexual counterparts in three of the Five Cs: Competence, defined as having a positive view of one's actions in social, academic, cognitive and vocational arenas; confidence, an aspect of mental health defined as an internal sense of overall positive self-worth; and connection, defined as having supportive and positive bonds with peers, family, school, and community.

It’s worth noting that of the small group of students who identified as sexual-minority youth, nearly 24 percent of them reported being a victim of bullying, compared with 12 percent of heterosexual youth.

"However, when we adjusted our models to control for the effects of bullying victimization, the differences in scores between sexual-minority and heterosexual youths reduced," said Mr. Coulter. "This suggests that bullying partly explains why sexual-minority youth had lower competence, confidence and connection."

In addition to bullying, a combination of other pervasive problems, such as stigma and discrimination, are likely contributing to the lower positive youth development scores for gay and bisexual teens.

"We need to take a holistic approach to positive youth development and create evidence-based programs that bring about a cultural change, allowing all youths, regardless of their sexual orientation, the same opportunity to thrive,” Coulter added.

Researchers say it is necessary for families, schools, communities and government to work together to foster environments that allow all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation, the same opportunity to prosper.

Source: Coulter R, Herrick A, Friedman M, Stall R. Sexual-Orientation Differences in Positive Youth Development: The Mediational Role of Bullying Victimization. American Journal of Public Health. 2016.