Telling a teenager that something isn’t cool isn’t enough to change their values about it, says Beyond Blue CEO, Georgie Harman, who found in a recent study that teenage boys are more homophobic than the general public.
“That’s so gay!” I hear a teenager say to another on the train during the after-school rush hour. The teens, still in their uniforms, stand in a group at the doorway, talking about something that has ticked them off, using the odd expletive as well as the word “gay”.
I remember hearing the word in the school yard when I was a teenager and it seems that it’s still being used, but even more worrying than that, the teens who are using it are aware of the homophobic nature of the word and keep using it anyway.
According to research conducted by TNS for mental health charity, Beyond Blue, three-quarters of teenage boys said they had heard the term “gay” used to describe something negative, while a quarter said terms like “homo” and “dyke” were “not really that bad” and thought using the word “gay” derogatorily was not a big deal.
Forty per cent of teenage boys also said they wouldn’t welcome a gay person into their friendship circle, even though they know this type of alienation can cause mental health issues, including depression.
The study took into the account the opinions of people globally, with more than 304 teenage boys involved, and noted teenage boys as the most homophobic demographic of the bunch.
Only one-third of teenage boys would be welcoming of a homosexual person in their social group, with many reporting that they felt uncomfortable or anxious around people who were attracted to the same sex.
Harman says that while other campaigns to discourage young people from homophobia haven’t been as successful, she expects the most recent campaign to make a difference because it uses an analogy with which kids can easily identify. The campaign video features a boy who is discriminated against because he is left-handed.
It’s much the same as how Jane Elliott in 1970 powerfully educated her Year 3 students to understand that racism was not to be tolerated through an eye colour experiment. Elliott taught her students about the emotional effects of racism by separating her children into brown-eyed and blue-eyed groups. The children quickly learned what discrimination feels like.
Hopefully Beyond Blue’s message will be felt just as strongly by teenage boys and they’ll, too, learn the tragic and alienating effects of discrimination.
What do you think? Have you talked about homophobia with your teenage son? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.