Teacher Involvement as a Protective Factor from the Association between Race-Based Bullying and Smoking Initiation
By Carly Hill and Julie Bender
Bullying has been a prevalent issue in American schools for a long time. When we think about the impact that bullying has on victims, we tend to picture someone experiencing emotional pain. However, being on the receiving end of bullying can have even farther reaching effects. Studies have shown that bullying is also associated with negative physical health and unhealthy behaviors. Adolescents who are on the receiving end of race-based discrimination experience more anger and reduced self-control, which are both associated with increased substance use.
Less research has been done on factors that protect youth from race-based bullying. These protective factors are anything that could keep an individual youth from experiencing the negative consequences of bullying, such as smoking. If we can figure out what these protective factors are, we may be able to design interventions to protect youth from the harmful effects of bullying. Some previous research shows that parents and friends often play an important role in protecting adolescents from the consequences of bullying, such as depressive symptoms and substance use.
But family and friends may not be the only protective factors available to youth. Teachers may also have a profound impact on protecting adolescents from the consequences of bullying. That’s why in 2014, Dr. Earnshaw and a team of researchers at the Yale School of Public Health set out to learn more about whether teacher involvement protects students from the relationship between race-based bullying and smoking initiation.
What did they do?
Dr. Earnshaw and colleagues hypothesized that:
● Students who report less teacher involvement would be more likely to start smoking if they experienced race-based bullying.
● Students who report more teacher involvement would be less likely to start smoking if they experienced race-based bullying.
Participants were selected from New Haven Public schools. Students in grades 5 and 6 completed surveys in the Fall of 2009 and again in 2011 when they reached grades 7 and 8. The surveys were designed to measure both race-based bullying and teacher involvement and also asked students if they have ever tried cigarette smoking. 790 students participated in this data collection. On average, participants were 11 years of age for the first survey and 13 years old when they took the second survey. Additionally, 46.7% of the participants identified as Latino and 39.3% as Black.
What did they find?
● Students who reported lower levels of teacher involvement were more likely to have started smoking within the past 2 years if they experienced race-based bullying
● Students who reported higher levels of teacher involvement were not more likely to have started smoking even if they had experienced race-based bullying.
This research indicates that teacher involvement is a protective factor from the association between race-based bullying and starting smoking.
This study draws attention to the important role that teachers can play in protecting students from the effects of race-based bullying on smoking initiation. Teachers may look for opportunities to build relationships with students who are experiencing race-based bullying. These relationships may protect youth from the harmful effects of bullying, ultimately preventing youth from starting to smoke at a young age. It is important for all adults to find ways to stop race-based bullying and to support youth who are experiencing race-based bullying to ensure their wellbeing.
Reference: Earnshaw, V. A., Rosenthal, L., Carroll-Scott, A., Peters, S., McCaslin, C., & Ickovics, J. R. (2014). Teacher involvement as a protective factor of the association between race-based bullying and smoking initiation. Social Psychology of Education, 17, 197-209. PMC4061757