Browsing safely online

Supporting LGBTQ+ children and young people

All young people, including those who are LGBTQ+ and those who are not, should be supported to browse the internet safely – there are inherent risks for all young people, and for LGBTQ young people these can include exposure to inappropriate content or bad advice around exploring their sexual orientation and identity.


What’s on the page

What you need to know

The internet is incredibly important for LGBTQ+ children and young people to connect with who they are and explore this side of their identity. As suggested, they are at no greater risk than any other children or young person when using the internet for browsing, but some of their browsing behaviour may expose them to potential risks that could be dangerous.

The Benefits

The internet is a powerful tool for your child to explore what they love, complete school activities, connect with friends, and understand the issues that affect the world around them.

Alongside the obvious benefits that browsing the internet offers to all children and young people, there are some specific benefits that can help to empower an LGBTQ+ child or young person, including:

Access to positive LGBTQ+ news stories

Access to LGBTQ+ specific websites and news outlets that report on many positive news stories relating to being LGBTQ+ from around the world, something that mainstream news outlets often do not show.

Advice and supportive communities

Access to support communities and advice that could help them to navigate early relationships, come out to friends and relatives and remain safe.

Online campaigning

Understanding and engaging in online campaigning that will help them develop a sense of community with like-minded people and their awareness of issues that affect them.

Explore identity and interest

Being able to explore more generally their interests and what makes them who they are outside of their sexual or romantic orientation or their gender identity.

The Risks

As with any activity online, unsupervised and unrestricted browsing online does come with risks for any child or young person. However, for a LGBTQ+ child or young person, there are some specific issues that could arise including:

Reading news stories from around the world that report on anti-LGBTQ+ issues

Whilst it is important for your child or young person to engage with current affairs, reading information about anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns or policy could start to impact their long-term confidence and feelings of safety.

Seeking out or coming across pornography

Due to a lack of LGBTQ+ sex education in schools, a lot of teens and young people within the community turn to the internet to educate themselves on how to navigate sex and relationships. This could result in them seeing inappropriate content that could impact their view of sex and relationships in the future, their body image, and self-esteem.

Exposing themselves to potentially harmful advice or support on specific topics

There is a lot of information out there, but many children and young people may not be able to discern the fact from fiction and good advice from advice that could be harmful to them. LGBTQ+ children and young people are more likely to use the internet to find answers to specific questions, especially if they do not have access to a community offline. As such, they are at a greater risk of exposing themselves to more harmful content.

Engaging with resources on conversion therapy

Even though the UK has recently acted to ban all conversion therapy practices, there is still a lot of information online regarding gay conversion therapy. As such, LGBTQ+ children and young people have been known to seek out a ‘cure’ for their sexuality, especially if they lack a support community offline. These resources are extremely dangerous, often advocating for dangerous or untested medications and self-harm as a means of ‘curing’ sexuality.

It is important to be aware that:

  • Although LGBTQ+ children and young people are no more at risk from browsing the internet as any other child or young person, their browsing habits might be different, and in that lies the risk.
  • Browsing the internet is a useful tool, and LGBTQ+ children and young people are likely to use it to explore key parts of their sexual or gender identity, as well as to identify a community they can feel a part of.

The Challenges

Giving children and young people the space to thrive online while managing potential risks they face can be more challenging as they become more active online. Other challenges include:

Using the internet use to explore identity

Allowing your child or young person to explore aspects of their sexuality and stay in touch with who they are is an extremely important area of internet use for LGBTQ+ children and young people. Cutting this off could impact their ability to understand their sexuality, something that many LGBTQ+ children and young people struggle with.

Cultural or religious expectations

There may be some cultural or religious expectations on your child from their school environment, in the home, or within the community in which you live. As such, they may have developed beliefs that conflict with their sexual orientation. There are faith groups that are open and accepting of LGBTQ+ people and it’s important that they know where they can find these groups. More information can be found here.

Dangers of fake news

Helping them understand fact from fiction and the dangers of fake news and inappropriate advice can be a difficult task, especially when so much of it is hard for even the most educated of adults to understand.

Tackling conversation about porn

Pornography and the sexualisation of LGBTQ+ people can be a difficult topic for anyone to talk about and opening this discussion with your child could be an uncomfortable situation.

The internet is essential toolkit for children and young people

It is not feasible to cut them off from technology and browsing altogether, given the volume of schoolwork that involves internet access.

 What things should you consider?

LGBTQ+ world issues

Even in 2020, there are still many places in the world that are not accepting of LGBTQ+ people, and often this finds its way into the headlines. Having an open discussion with your child about this is important in order to ensure they feel safe and are aware of measures they may need to take when travelling. Key things to think about before having this conversation with them include:

  • The aim is not to scare them. Despite advances in LGBTQ+ rights, the world can still be a difficult place for these children and young people.
  • Talking about news items that are upsetting might be a difficult job, and scaring them into feeling they are unable to express themselves is not the goal but could be a byproduct of this conversation.
  • Instead of talking about all the horrible things that LGBTQ+ have experienced around the world, try to discuss how far rights have come, and that whilst some places still have far to go, they should not feel unsafe to express themselves.
  • Ensure they are aware of the difficulties facing LGBTQ+ people in your country, and any measures they could take to protect themselves from harm, both online and offline. This might be a scary topic for you to discuss with them as well, as their wellbeing is your first priority, but it’s important to stay calm and honest with them.

Practical steps to protect them

It is important to remember that the internet is a powerful and incredibly useful tool for children and young people, despite the dangers that might be worrying you. Opening the conversation on some of the potential areas of risk is important, in order to make sure you are both on the same page, but it is important to strike a balance between making them aware of the dangers without scaring them off using the internet to explore who they are.

Things you can do

Here are more practical things that you can do to help them manage what they see online and find content that will benefit their wellbeing and help them thrive in their digital world.

Setting up parental controls

If you are concerned about your child viewing pornography online, parental controls and filters are a simple way to block out this content to avoid them stumbling across it but ensure to combine this with a conversation as filters may not block out everything.. t They will get taught about safe sex as part of their PSHE in school, but this is mainly geared towards heterosexuality and there may be some gaps for LGBTQ+ young people that might be up to you to fill, so be prepared for any questions they may have.

Find LGBTQ+ friendly sites for them

There are lots of sites, online magazines and news outlets that are built around or incredibly supportive LGBTQ+ people. Find some of these and recommend them to your child as a means of exploring their identity and connecting with LGBTQ+ issues without risking them being exposed to incredibly negative, harmful or scary headlines.

Have an open door policy so they can come to you for support

One of the best ways to protect your child is for you to be present for them. Let them know that you are there to have an open and honest discussion with them about what they see online, and that you will do so without judgement. It is about guiding them in the right direction and building healthy online habits, not about punishing them for making bad decisions.

Conversations to have

Pornography

Obviously, this might be an uncomfortable topic for you to approach with your child, and one that should be tackled in an age-appropriate way. If your child is younger, this might not even be something that you feel is necessary to cover, but for teenagers, this is something they are much more likely to be exposed to. There are some things to consider when opening the conversation on this topic, including:

Try not to feel too awkward

We appreciate this is easier said than done, but if you are obviously uncomfortable during discussions of sex and exploring sexuality, this attitude is something that your child is likely to absorb.

Remember, it is not a bad thing for your child to explore

Exploring this side of themselves (providing they are of legal age), and if you are visibly awkward, this could impact their view of sex and relationships in the future.

Don’t be accusatory

You are not accusing them of looking at pornography or of doing anything wrong, but rather opening the conversation so they feel they can talk to you about anything they have seen that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Understand why your child has accessed porn

Think about how you can support them to meet that need in a healthier way. For example, if they’re curious about what sex involves, are there age-appropriate and factually correct resources they can look at to help answer their questions? If they feel pressured by age peers because ‘everybody’s doing it’, have a conversation with them about how it’s normal to feel those pressures but important to respect their own and others’ boundaries and the law.

Fake news and bad advice

Fake news can be difficult for anyone to navigate, especially for minority groups. This is because they are often the subject of fake news, and it can leave them and those in their lives vulnerable to believing lies about themselves or their loved ones. Not only is fake news an issue, but there is a lot of useless or harmful advice on the internet that those who are not well educated in that particular area might decide to follow.

Educate yourself

Educate yourself. Make sure you know how to spot fake news, and teach them the signs.

Have a discussion about what they see online

Discuss with them what kind of things they are browsing the internet and try to understand what problems they might be trying to solve with it.

Direct them to reliable sources of information

Identify with them the kind of support or advice that comes from reliable sources, and where to find these sources. For example, try to discourage them from finding advice on sites like Reddit or other similar forums as they are not moderated and can often contain potentially harmful advice.

Dealing with Issues

If your child comes across something that upsets them online, here are some important things to remember on how to deal with these issues:

  • Ask them how they came across the content that upset or concerned them – did they seek it out? Did they happen upon it?
  • Ask them what kind of content it was – was it hate speech, pornography, something that concerned them from across the world?
  • Talk to them about how it made them feel – were they scared by it? Traumatised? Do they have questions about what they saw or read?
  • Reassure them that this is not something they are in trouble for, and that you are just there to make sure they are ok. If they think they are in trouble, it could result in them being secretive about their behaviours online in the future
  • If they feel like talking to you is not the best option, point them in the direction of other support they can get – other family members, family friends, their school, or expert organisations such as Childline
  • Review parental controls with your child and assess what, if any, need to be stricter
  • Tell them that, even though going online is useful and part of life, it is ok to feel the need to take a break away from internet use
  • If they are concerned about some pornography they have seen, it is important to understand what it was and the severity of it. Even though this will be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation to have, you need to know this to go forward in dealing with any harm they have come across
  • If you feel that their wellbeing or mental health is at risk from online harms, consider discussing it with a GP, or point your child in the direction of additional support from organisations such as Young Minds

Setting up for success to help children browse safely onlinene

Here are more practical things that you can do to help them manage what they see online and find content that will benefit their wellbeing and help them thrive in their digital world.

Parental controls

If you are concerned about your child viewing pornography online, parental controls and filters are a simple way to block out this content to avoid them stumbling across it but ensure to combine this with a conversation as filters may not block out everything. They will get taught about safe sex as part of their PSHE in school, and it was recently announced that LGBTQ+ education must now legally form part of this education. However, there may still be some gaps for LGBTQ+ young people that might be up to you to fill, so be prepared for any questions they may have.

Find LGBTQ+ friendly sites for them

There are lots of sites, online magazines, and news outlets that are built around or incredibly supportive LGBTQ+ people. Find some of these and recommend them to your child as a means of exploring their identity and connecting with LGBTQ+ issues without risking them being exposed to incredibly negative, harmful, or scary headlines.

These sites are a good starting point:

News and Current Affairs
Pink News
Reporting on LGBTQ+ specific current affairs issues

Buzzfeed
Young Person-friendly news reporting

Support and Further Information on LGBTQ+ Issues
Ditch the Label
International Anti-Bullying Charity

Young Stonewall
Support and Information on issues affecting young LGBTQ+ people

The Trevor Project
US-based supporting LGBT Youth

Mermaids
A UK-based charity supporting trans children and young people

Have an open-door policy so they can come to you for support

One of the best ways to protect your child is for you to be present for them. Let them know that you are there to have an open and honest discussion with them about what they see online and that you will do so without judgment. It is about guiding them in the right direction and building healthy online habits, not about punishing them for making bad decisions.

Recommended resources

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

Young minds – 0808 802 5544 (open 9.30 am – 4 pm)

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Report Harmful Content – Helping everyone to report harmful content online

Ditch the Label – Report harmful online content for removal

Childline – 0800 1111 (open 24 hours)

Samaritans – 08457 90 90 90 (open 24 hours)

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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