That’s a pretty common reassurance given to most every kid in junior high or high school. If you’re getting picked on, don’t worry, it gets better. High school sucks. People grow up. Eventually, you won’t be forced to spend eight hours a day around a large group of your peers looking for social acceptance and self-affirmation through the expense of others.
Even more likely is that the phrase is spoken to members of the GLBT community, whose adolescent journey is much more difficult than the typical teenager. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the common discussion portrayed on television and in movies at least half a dozen times.
But that always leaves me wondering. Does it? Does it actually get better? For everyone? According to a recent study from the University of Illinois, why yes. Yes it does.
Researchers surveyed 4,135 white British teens and asked them to report on their levels of bullying for six years. At the onset of the study, there was quite a lot of bullying going on. Slightly more than half of all gay and lesbian students were subjected to some form of peer ridicule at the ages of 13-14, significantly more than their heterosexual peers (40% of all girls and 38% of all boys).
As the participants aged, however, it did indeed get better. The bullying rates for women dropped significantly no matter their sexual orientation, becoming nearly equal at 6% for lesbian or bisexual women versus 5% for straight women by the time they were 20.
But the boys didn’t let their peers off quite so easily.
While bullying rates for men in general dropped to just 2% by age 20, it dropped to only 9% for gay men. Obviously, there is some sort of stigma still attached to being a gay man even after we have supposedly “grown up,” and I’m guessing it is at least as bad in the United States.
So yes, while it is true that it does get better for most everyone, even if you’re sexual orientation doesn’t point in the same direction as the masses, there’s still a solid number of men who don’t see the promise come to fruition.
We’ve still got a ways to go.
The paper, “Developmental trends in peer victimization and emotional distress in LGB and heterosexual youth,” was published in Pediatrics by University of Illinois educational psychologist Joseph P. Robinson, Dorothy L. Espelage, professor of educational psychology at Illinois, and Ian Rivers, professor in the department of sport and education at Brunel University in the United Kingdom.