- Dawn DeLay
The Influence of Peers During Adolescence: Homophobic Name Calling by Peers Change Gender Identity
Adolescents actively evaluate their identities during adolescence, and one of the most salient and central identities for youth concerns their gender identity. Experiences with peers may inform gender identity. Unfortunately, many youth experience homophobic name calling, a form of peer victimization, and it is unknown whether youth internalize these peer messages and how these messages might influence gender identity. The goal of the present study was to assess the role of homophobic name calling on changes over the course of an academic year in adolescents’ gender identity. Specifically, this study extends the literature using a new conceptualization and measure of gender identity that involves assessing how similar adolescents feel to both their own- and other-gender peers and, by employing longitudinal social network analyses, provides a rigorous analytic assessment of the impact of homophobic name calling on changes in these two dimensions of gender identity. Symbolic interaction perspectives—the “looking glass self”—suggest that peer feedback is incorporated into the self-concept. The current study tests this hypothesis by determining if adolescents respond to homophobic name calling by revising their self-view, specifically, how the self is viewed in relation to both gender groups. Participants were 299 6th grade students (53% female). Participants reported peer relationships, experiences of homophobic name calling, and gender identity (i.e., similarity to own- and other-gender peers). Longitudinal social network analyses revealed that homophobic name calling early in the school year predicted changes in gender identity over time. The results support the “looking glass self” hypothesis: experiencing homophobic name calling predicted identifying significantly less with own-gender peers and marginally more with other-gender peers over the course of an academic year. The effects held after controlling for participant characteristics (e.g., gender), social network features (e.g., norms), and peer experiences (e.g., friend influence, general victimization). Homophobic name calling emerged as a form of peer influence that changed early adolescent gender identity, such that adolescents in this study appear to have internalized the messages they received from peers and incorporated these messages into their personal views of their own gender identity.