Issue date: 07 January 2003

A researcher at the University of the West of England has found that the majority of teenagers are upset by teasing or bullying about their appearance and she has devised a set of coping strategies to help them deal with this problem.

The research, carried out by Dr Emily Lovegrove found that 75% of nearly 1,000 adolescents questioned said that teasing or bullying about the way they look caused them distress, and 31% said they refused to take part in classroom debate because of their appearance. A further 20% of 15 year-olds said that they truant because of concern about their appearance.

Working with the teenagers Emily developed a programme to help them and their peers cope with appearance-related bullying.

Over 200 teenagers in year 8 (12-13 year olds) were given lessons on the importance of body language in human interactions as well as learning and practising 8 new coping strategies. The 6 one-hour sessions proved to be highly popular and very helpful to the teenagers who were involved.

Six months after the sessions finished perceived levels of bullying had decreased by almost two-thirds and there were significant improvements both in global self-esteem, and in confidence to tackle teasing and bullying. A similar group which did not have the sessions showed no such improvements.

Dr Lovegrove says, “This research shows that teasing and bullying about appearance undermines global self-esteem and affects academic confidence. But if we can teach social skills to deal with psychological bullying – which is the most common form – then this may stop physical bullying from ever starting. Once young people have learned these strategies they are easily adaptable for use in other types of confrontation.”

Emily says what is needed now is funding for teacher-training courses and to develop self-help books for children and adolescents who are being teased about their appearance.

The research was funded by Changing Faces, a national charity based in London which supports and represents children, young people, and adults who have disfigurement. Changing Faces initially pioneered a programme of strategies to empower teenagers with disfigurement and Dr Lovegrove based her programme on this work.

Dr Emily Lovegrove is presenting her research at the Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) Conference taking place in Harrogate from 8 – 10 January 2003.


Editor’s notes

For further information about Changing Faces see: www.changingfaces.co.uk

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