Connecting and sharing online

Supporting LGBTQ+ children and young people

For LGBTQ+ children and young people, connecting and sharing online can be a vital way to interact with peers, educate themselves, and find solutions to issues that friends or family may not understand. However, there are also areas of risk for young people within the LGBTQ+ community when interacting online.

What’s on the page

What you need to know

Life on social media is an important part of growing up today, and for LGBTQ+ children and young people, it can often be a lifeline. Connections are really helpful for those who want to educate themselves on their sexuality, or discover friends and connections who are in the same position. It can also be a way to affirm they are not alone and there are other people thinking about the same things they are.

The Benefits

There are many benefits for LGBTQ+ children and young people in forging relationships within online communities including:

Connecting with LGBTQ+ community

Building relationships with others in the LGBTQ+ community, especially if there are few others in their lives who identify as LGBTQ+.

Exploring LGBTQ+ identity

Educating themselves about aspects of growing up LGBTQ+.

Finding like-minded people

Finding a community of people with similar experiences.

Sharing experiences in different ways

Expressing themselves through all kinds of ways that they may not get to do offline.

Online dating and managing relationships

Exploring online dating and relationships – LGBTQ+ young people can meet online and share and discuss experiences with other LGBTQ+ people. Being able to build meaningful connections with others with similar experiences is a major selling point for online dating for those in the LGBTQ+ community, where they can be themselves free from the potential judgement of others.

Resources

Social media guide

Visit guide

The Risks

We know that there are risks and challenges that go hand in hand with the benefits of existing in online spaces, and this is no different for LGBTQ+ children and young people. These can include:

Exposure to inappropriate content and online hate

Being exposed to dangerous, hateful, or inappropriate content online about the LGBTQ+ community including anti-LGBTQ+ messaging such as hate speech, or even paid-for advertisements for things such as conversion therapy or anti-LGBTQ+ groups.

Exposure to pornography

Exposure to pornography is another risk. This could be pornographic content online or shared between two specific individuals. This could stand to impact your child’s view of sex and exploring their sexuality, as well as potentially endangering themselves should they feel pressured to take part in similar activities.

Connecting with dangerous people

Connecting with potentially dangerous individuals, including using online dating apps that may not be age-appropriate.

Online sexual harassment

Being a victim of online sexual harassment – unwanted sexual behaviour online. Everyone is at risk of this, but for LGBTQ+ children and young people, their sexual orientation and/or gender could be the reason they are targeted.

Meeting online-only friends face-to-face

Meeting people in person that they have only engaged with online, especially within the context of online dating, could put them in danger of sexual harassment or physical assault offline – research from The Brook revealed that significantly more gay young people (9.9%) had met up with an online contact who was not who they said they were, compared to straight young people (4.9%).

Grooming and sexual exploitation

Being a victim of grooming and sexual exploitation – all children and young people are vulnerable to these risks including the LGBTQ+ community. Some LGBTQ+ children and young people deliberately use adult sites because they think it’s an easier way to meet people, explore their sexuality, or feel accepted. Also, an adult dating app might be the only online space they know of specifically for LGBTQ+ people – if they don’t have access to an LGBTQ+ youth group or a moderated forum run by trained professionals.

Harmful hate speech online for transgender people

The threat of being exposed to dangerous or harmful hate speech online increases exponentially for transgender people, with 1.5 million transphobic tweets published over the course of a three and a half year period. With the threat of witnessing hate speech comes the added threat of transphobic cyberbullying (bullying based on prejudice or negative attitudes, views, or beliefs about trans people). A culture of transphobia online can mean some people feel emboldened to harass, bully or discriminate against trans people, so young trans people might be especially at risk of transphobic cyberbullying. This can potentially have harmful effects on mental wellbeing and self-image.

It is important to be aware that:

  • LGBTQ+ children and young people are more likely to be on the receiving end of cyberbullying due to their sexuality or gender identity. 3 in 10 LGBT young people have been bullied with comments, messages, videos, or pictures that were mean, untrue, secret, or embarrassing.
  • Although witnessing LGBTQ+ hate speech online was found to be eight times less likely than witnessing general conversations about sexual and gender identity, it is still relatively common.
  • According to Stonewall – The School Report (2017), 2 in 5 LGBT young people (40 percent) have been the target of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic abuse online.
  • However, many LGBTQ+ children and young people come out online before coming out offline and may build a community with people they only know online before they are able to build a community of LGBTQ+ friends offline. Cutting them off from a valuable resource could discourage them from coming out to peers and friends offline.

The Challenges

The primary challenge for all parents is to work out how your child can enjoy the benefits of social media and connecting online, whilst protecting them from the risks that may lead to harm. This is especially important for children and young people exploring their sexuality because of the additional challenges that you may come across. These can include:

The importance of social media in maintaining relationships

Internet and social media use are a fundamental aspect of the lives of children and young people today and limiting this could impact their relationships with school friends, long-distance friendships, and other relationships that exist primarily offline. This is even more important following recent events of lockdowns due to Coronavirus where young people might be restricted from seeing friends on regular basis.

Vital roles of online resources and groups to support wellbeing

  • Limiting access to the internet could cut them off from precious resources that would allow them to explore and express who they are.
  • Being part of a community with other LGBTQ+ people may be really important to a young person, so they need to be supported to understand how to make friends and connections online in a safe way.
  • They may feel that the benefits of using it outweigh the risks or be aware of the risks but do not want to lose what they have gained.

What things should you consider?

There are a few things to consider when approaching your child about their internet use, and when taking steps to protect their wellbeing:

  • Know the risks it could help you to identify any risky situations they may be taking part in unknowingly.
  • Have open and honest conversations with children and young people about life online – for example, asking them what they think about any news stories relating to apps or new technologies, ask them to tell you about their favourite app.
  • Be aware of what your child is using the internet for and who they are connecting with.
  • Equally, understand that the internet is a part of growing up now, and you should respect their right to use it and their right to privacy. Make sure to work together to build their resilience and trust to ensure they make safer choices online and can cope with potential online risks.
  • Understand that banning technology and internet use is not feasible. It has a far greater positive impact than a negative one.
  • Know what the law says – Although not all harmful online behaviour is illegal, every act of discrimination against LGBTQ+ children and young people should be challenged. If you are concerned about an incident that has happened online, you can go through your local safeguarding body using your child’s school referral process. Reports to the police are done alongside a referral to children’s social care. For more insight on what the law says see Stonewall’s guide.

Practical steps to protect them

Social media has become a part of growing up. Although there are many clear benefits to connecting and sharing with others online, especially for minority groups of children and young people, there are some things that can be done to protect them from the risks outlined in this resource.
Opening a conversation with them about social media use is the best way to start communicating about what they should be aware of, what you expect from each other to help them stay safe online.

Things you can do

Setting up for success

There are lots of things you can do to help your child stay safe online, and build their own healthy online habits that will help them in the future.

Privacy settings

You might choose to have a discussion with your child about the privacy settings and options on different social media sites. Having an open conversation about the risks and rewards of different settings will help you understand their goals on social media, as well as making sure they are aware of who can see what they are putting out there.

Set hours for social media time

During term time, and especially during the week, it’s important to make sure that your child is not spending every minute of their spare time on social media, and instead of doing other things they find enriching, or completing their school work.

Work out with them what you think these hours should be, put up a loose timetable on the fridge or somewhere prominent in the home, and make sure everyone in the family sticks to it. You have to lead by example here, so if they can’t be on social media – neither can you.

Keep checking in with them

It can be as easy as keeping the conversation going with them around social media use. Try not to interrogate them though, as this will only lead to them hiding their social media practices from you. Have conversations where you remind them of the rules you have set out together, and allow them to discuss anything on social media they have seen or shared that is concerning them.

Do your research

A key reason why social media can be a lifeline for LGBTQ+ children is that they feel they do not have a community of their own offline, that they feel misunderstood by those around them, or that they cannot express themselves safely. So, help them find this both on and offline.  Look at local groups or meet-ups. Encourage them to express themselves through hobbies. Whatever will give your child a productive outlet, or, better yet, a safe space to express themselves, is a great way to ensure they are comfortable with who they are both on and offline.

Conversations to have

Start the discussion in a casual way

Sitting down with them for a formal discussion is something they will associate with a punishment or serious news.

Ask them about what they use social media for

What they like about it and who they connect with – giving them a chance to be open first is much better than simply telling them what you think.

Ask them if they see anything on social media that makes them uncomfortable

They might not be honest, but their reaction will help you to gauge if they are interacting with or witnessing anything on social media that is affecting them offline as well.

Talk to them about the dangers of oversharing on social media

It’s very common for young people to come out online first. As such, they may have been a part of online communities that share LGBTQ+ experiences before you knew. Nevertheless, oversharing in a community of people they’ve never met before can still be dangerous, regardless of how long they have been a part of it. For example, disclosing identifying information that could help somebody to find them in real life.

Allow them to voice their feelings

It’s important that your child feels listened to when discussing their social media use, as it may be one of the largest parts of their lives.

Things to remember

Stay calm

There is a chance they may get defensive or angry when discussing this subject, particularly if they have been taking part in an activity that you now feel the need to limit. Remember to stay calm and talk to them in an age-appropriate way.

Remind them

You are not completely cutting them off from technology or the internet, just limiting or monitoring activity.

Let them be a part of it

Ask them to help with the next steps. If they are being honest with you about their activity, then inviting them to take part in creating the boundaries will help them see it’s for good, and this isn’t happening as a punishment.

Social media is a big part of life – for LGBTQ+

Children and young people, social media can often be a lifeline to find a community and is often the place they come out first. Restricting access to social media could severely impact their ability to come out offline and talk openly with others about their sexuality.

Dealing with online issues

Here are some steps you can do (you will want to adapt it to fit with your knowledge of your child or young person):

What are the main issues?

Oversharing

What’s the harm?

It can be difficult for LGBTQ+ children and young people to understand what classifies as oversharing online, especially given that so much of children and young people’s lives are played out in an online space. But sharing too much personal information can put your child in danger.

Coping strategies

  • Explain the potential consequences of oversharing in an open and honest conversation
  • If they have already shared information that concerns them, find out what it was and with whom they shared it
  • If the information has been published on other websites without their knowledge or consent, contact the site to have it taken down

Where to go for support and advice

If you need something taken down from a particular social media site, you can go to Ditch the Label, who can report the content to social media sites for expedited removal. You can also use the Report Harmful Content online website to get support on any issue you’d like to report. Also, if the information was further shared by a peer or classmate of your child or young person, contacting their school will help to ensure this does not happen again.

Online Sexual Abuse

What’s the harm?

Any child, from any background, can be at risk of sexual abuse online. But some are more vulnerable than others.

The independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) found the most common concerns raised of a sexual nature were online and peer-on-peer abuse (this form of abuse occurs when there is any kind of physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse or coercive control exercised between children. It includes cyberbullying, sexual violence, harassment, and sexting.

Research from Stonewall, The School Report 2017 found that 6% of LGBTQ young people have been filmed or photographed without their consent, and 3% say that sexually suggestive pictures or messages about them have been shared without their consent.

Coping strategies

  • Immediately block and delete the perpetrator.
  • In some circumstances, you may need to save evidence of the abuse – as you may need evidence of this to the authorities and/or police.
  • Reassure your child it’s not their fault – they are probably feeling just as scared and worried as you. Let them know that your main concern is that they are safe and that you want to help them. Children and young people often worry about the ‘stigma’ of having been abused. Avoid treating your child as if they are different in any way because of it.
  • Have a calm and open conversation with them about what happened – this will be a difficult conversation for both of you so bear in mind that children and young people who have been abused will find it very difficult to talk about it
  • Avoid questions that might be felt to be intrusive or pressurising – instead, focus on understanding how they are feeling now and what they might like from you.
  • Has the abuse definitely stopped? – often abuse continues even after a child or young person has told someone about it).

Where to go for support and advice

  • Report it –  If you suspect a child is a victim of online sexual abuse, report it immediately to CEOP or IWF.
  • If your child or young person is in immediate danger contact the police on 999, for the local police, 101. You can also report a problem by visiting our report issue page.

Sexting

What’s the harm?

It’s difficult to get an accurate figure of how many children share sexual images, but sharing amongst children and young people, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community is not an isolated behaviour. In research by Stonewall, 59% of all gay young people who participated in the survey had created a sexual photo or video of themselves.

This compares to 40% of straight young people who responded (Stonewall, 2014). But they often do not understand that they are violating the law by sending or being in possession of sexually explicit images of a minor. Research suggests over a third (34 percent) of young people have sent a ‘sexual or nude’ image of themselves to someone, and over half (52 percent) have received an image of this type (Digital Romance, CEOP & Brook, 2017).

Coping strategies

  • Identify what kind of content was shared, how explicit the image was and who was involved. Was it sent to or from someone who is considerably older than them?
  • Understand why they engaged in this behaviour by having an open and honest discussion with them about it
  • Make them aware of the risks involved, including that if they send images of themselves to others, they have no control over where that image goes in the future, even through apps such as Snapchat, where images disappear after a few seconds
  • If the perpetrator was someone older, or you feel your child or young person was coerced into this behaviour, block and delete the perpetrator, and report it

Where to go for support and advice

  • Report it! If you suspect a child is a victim of online sexual abuse, report it immediately to CEOP or IWF
  • Offer your child support. Let them know of confidential helplines they can talk to such as Childline or the NSPCC

Witnessing hate speech

They may not be aware of the amount of hate speech they might see on social media. Even though research by anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that homophobic hate speech was eight times less likely on social media than general discussions about homophobia, they might still be exposed to this, and you should be prepared to discuss this with them.

Coping strategies

  • Have an open discussion with your child or young person about what they saw or read and how it made them feel.
  • Identify the pain points – did they see a slur? What about what was said made them feel this way? Was it directed to them or did they just see it.
  • You can report harmful content to social media sites for removal.

Where to go for support and advice

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can also take the form of an exploitative relationship which is usually done by someone your child or young person knows very well. It relies on a person knowing to target your child’s triggers to bait them into doing something or getting angry or upset for their entertainment.

However, LGBTQ+ young people often find themselves targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 2 in 5 have been the target of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse online. In particular, nearly 3 in 5 trans young people have received this abuse online. [Source: Stonewall School Report, 2017]

Coping strategies

  • Block and report the perpetrator
  • If the perpetrator is from your child’s school, then report this to the appropriate persons
  • Offer support and talk to your child – explain it’s not their fault this is happening
  • Discuss ways they can navigate the online world safely

Where to go for support and advice

Recommended resources

Here are some more resources to support children and young people. Visit the Inclusive Digital Safety resource centre for more expert resources.

Finding support group through Stonewall

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Mermaids Kids and young people helpline and resources for trans people – 0808 801 0400

LGBT Youth Scotland support site

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Seeking support

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Childline helplines

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Making the internet safer and more inclusive

Together with SWGfL we've created this hub to provide online safety advice and guidance to support parents & professionals working with children and young people experiencing vulnerabilities.

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