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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.
There are many benefits for LGBTQ+ children and young people in forging relationships within online communities including:
Building relationships with others in the LGBTQ+ community, especially if there are few others in their lives who identify as LGBTQ+.
Educating themselves about aspects of growing up LGBTQ+.
Finding a community of people with similar experiences.
Expressing themselves through all kinds of ways that they may not get to do offline.
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.
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:
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 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 potentially dangerous individuals, including using online dating apps that may not be age-appropriate.
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 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%).
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.
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:
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:
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.
There are a few things to consider when approaching your child about their internet use, and when taking steps to protect their wellbeing:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sitting down with them for a formal discussion is something they will associate with a punishment or serious news.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You are not completely cutting them off from technology or the internet, just limiting or monitoring activity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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]
Making the internet safer and more inclusive
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