The children are listening. Scientists have uncovered new evidence that heated political discussions, such as debates about the rights of LGBT people, can contribute to an increase in bullying in schools. It is the largest study to date to examine the link.
In the study, published in May 2019 in the journal Pediatrics, scientists at UT Austin, Columbia University and Texas State University found that in the run-up to a statewide voter referendum to ban gay marriage in California, young people reported significantly more homophobic bullying. In fact, homophobic bullying peaked that school year and declined after the public debate subsided.
“We think that young people don’t hear what adults and lawmakers are talking about, but they do,” says Stephen Russell, senior author of the paper and chair of the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at UT Austin.