Staying safe while gaming

Supporting LGBTQ+ children and young people

Online gaming is incredibly popular among children and young people. Whether it is through phones and mobile devices, PCs, or games consoles, most children and young people will have experience in gaming online. However, there are some areas of gaming that could put LGBTQ+ children and young people at risk of being bullied or subjected to homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic language.

What’s on the page

What you need to know

It is important to note that although people of all genders engage with online gaming, it is and has historically been strongly male-oriented. As a result, women and girls have found that they are often targeted unfairly, and regularly face gendered abuse and sexist/misogynistic remarks and behaviours, that can be sexual in nature.

Young female gamers, whether in the LGBTQ+ community or not, are statistically at the highest risk of verbal abuse in online games. [Source]

The Benefits

Although you might not understand your child’s willingness to spend a lot of time gaming online, there is a lot to suggest that there are multiple benefits to this as a hobby. Online gaming benefits all young people, both those who are LGBTQ+ and those who are not – but there may be particular benefits for LGBTQ+ young people which include:

Develop key skills

Finding a hobby your child enjoys can be incredibly liberating for them, but especially if they are LGBTQ+. It gives them the opportunity to develop skills such as strategy and decision making, express themselves, and converse with others with a degree of confidence.

Maintain existing relationships with friends

It can help them to develop existing relationships with friends and peers who enjoy the same games as them. This could mean they get to know the people in their lives better and feel safer to come out or embrace who they are amongst friends.

Find online community of friends

Some young people may develop online friendships with people they meet through gaming. Although that might be a concern to you, especially as it would involve them conversing with strangers, there is evidence to suggest that long-lasting friendships can be made through online gaming. [Source: Kowert et al, The Relationship Between Online Video Game Involvement and Gaming-Related Friendships Among Emotionally Sensitive Individuals, Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking (2014 Jul 1; 17(7): 447–453)]

The Risks

There are some risks that come with online gaming, predominantly revolving around hate speech and bullying that takes place in-game.

Cyberbullying and Trolling

  • Bullying is a cause for concern within online gaming. International anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that 57% of young people had been bullied in an online game, and this can have a considerable impact on a young person’s mental health.
  • Stonewall research also found that 40% of LGBT young people have specifically experienced homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic abuse online.
  • Witnessing hate speech is also a risk, especially if an LGBTQ+ child or young person is openly out within the online gaming arena. Again, 57% of young people have been subjected to this in online gaming.
  • Trolling is a difficult aspect of gaming online, and 64% of young people have been trolled significantly

Unwanted sexual contact

  • 40% of young people have also received unwanted sexual contact in an online game.

Being outed

  • Being outed in an online gaming environment is something that LGBTQ+ children and young people are at risk of that others are not.

Personal information shared without consent

  • Having personal information shared in an online game is another general risk for children and young people, whether they share the information themselves without understanding the risks, or if others share it without their consent.

It is important to be aware that:

  • Not all LGBTQ+ young people will want to come out as LGBTQ+ in online gaming.
  • Also, LGBTQ+ children and young people are likely to play online with peers from school or hobbies as well as some who they meet through online gaming, and therefore people who might already know about their gender or sexual identity. This does not necessarily increase the risk of harm, but it can mean that informing other gamers about this is out of their control.
  • Communicating with strangers online in any format or platform will always carry a certain amount of risk. However, the interaction in online games can be kept brief, and all children and young people have the ability to leave a game or match whenever they choose, regardless of the game they are playing.

The Challenges

Although it might feel like banning online gaming would be more beneficial for the mental and physical wellbeing of your child, this is not feasible, and there are multiple challenges related to balancing their wellbeing with their love of this particular hobby.

Gaming is the new school playground

  • They are likely to use online gaming to connect with friends and peers outside of school.
  • Regularly going online for gaming is social, and they might have a community of friends there that they are unwilling to give up, especially if they are connecting with those people solely online.

Difficult to report incidents

  • There are shortfalls in in-game reporting of cyberbullying, and it can often be difficult to find the area within the game where reporting takes place.

Cyberbullying seen as banter

  • Cyberbullying in online gaming can be difficult for children and young people to identify, and it is often passed off as “banter”.

Fear of losing community if a report is made

  • Specifically, for LGBTQ+ children and young people, witnessing hate speech in online games might be something they are unwilling to communicate with you for fear of losing their hobby and community. Also, for LGBTQ young people who aren’t out yet, telling someone about anti-LGBT hate speech can be intimidating because the young person may fear that doing so will mean coming out as LGBTQ.

Management of personal information

  • Finally, LGBTQ+ children and young people might feel that as long as they are not “out” online, that none of this is going to be an issue for them as no one within that environment are going to know about their sexual orientation. However, they might not understand that they do not always control the flow of their personal information online, and others “outing” them is still a risk.

Practical steps to protect them

Tools and advice to prevent the risk

There are numerous things you can do to help to protect your child from online harassment that occurs in a game, even if you cannot be there to moderate with them. Having an open conversation with them about their gaming habits, who they game with online, and why they enjoy it so much is by far the best way to begin to understand them and the nature of any harassment that might occur.

Things you can do

Play a round with them

The best way for you to understand why your child is willing to risk being harassed or bullied in a game is simply to play it with them. Understand what they enjoy about it, like the strategy, competition or social elements of the game. A great way to bond with them is over something they love, it will also help you to see just how at risk they are by understanding the way things are communicated within the game and the amount of inappropriate language or interaction actually might take place in an average session.

Find out how to report abuse

Have a conversation with your child on what their favourite games are and do some of your own research. Find out how to report abuse in their favourite games and what the processes are with the companies that produce these games. You may never need to use it, but understanding how to do this will give you peace of mind knowing that you can take things further as and when you need to. The reporting varies across game, platform and publisher, so it’s best to find out what it is for each of your child’s favourite games.

Talk to your child about oversharing

Oversharing online is something that all children and young people need to be aware of. Have a discussion with your child about sharing their sexuality openly in online games, and the potential risks versus reward this could bring. The aim of this is not to make them ashamed of their sexuality, but rather to protect them against witnessing harmful abuse or hate speech. It is important to note when discussing this with them that even if they do decide to keep their sexuality or gender identity private, these types of insults might still be thrown around casually within this space.

Set gaming times

As with social media use, talk to them about their time spent gaming and ensure they can balance this with a healthy sleeping pattern and maintaining all their other commitments. It would be more likely that older gamers will be online late in the evening and into the night, whereas gamers their own age will be online earlier and after school. Try to set a timetable that would be able to protect them from older gamers who might be more likely to be abusive or use inappropriate language in the chat function.

Conversations to have

Discuss with them what they get out of the gaming experience

What do they enjoy? What would they change if they could? Who do they communicate with the most when they play?

Identify with them what kind of information they are putting out there

When they game – do they use their real name? Real age? Gender identity or sexual orientation? Remind them it’s up to them what they feel comfortable sharing with others online. Also, talk to them about the importance of not sharing personal or identifying information with strangers.

Ask if they have ever witnessed bullying in online games

Asking them directly if they have been bullied or have perpetrated bullying is not likely to elicit a truthful answer as they might be fearful that access to the game will be taken away. Instead, asking if they have ever witnessed it generally will help you gauge if it is happening where they play.

Dealing with online issues

As a parent or carer for an LGBTQ+ children and young people, you might have some concerns on how to handle in-game abuse and bullying that your child might be subjected to. To help you deal with these potential issues we’ve provided guidance on things you can do and places you can go for support and further advice.

Things to remember

It is important to remember that your child might not even be experiencing these harms, and possibly have never witnessed bullying, hate speech, or any other harm in a game before. As such, there may be nothing you need to protect them from in this case. Nevertheless, it is important to be prepared that these issues could arise at any time, and having an action plan to support them can give you the confidence you need to give them the support they need.

Also, young people may not immediately tell a carer about the bullying, for fear of having to come out (or losing access to the game), so it’s important to keep an eye out for any behaviour changes which might indicate a young person is experiencing bullying.

What are the main issues?

Bullying in game

Bullying in a game can be difficult for your child or young person to go through, as games are often where they go to wind down, decompress, or socialise with friends and peers. If bullying is frequent, this could drive them away from what they enjoy, and affect their mental wellbeing.

Coping strategies

  • Have an open and honest discussion with your child about what kind of bullying is taking place, how frequently it happens, and on which game or platform it happens
  • Educate yourself on how to report bullying in different games – it varies widely from game to game and platform to platform
  • Make sure they know they are not alone in this, and you are there to support them
  • Suggest they take a break from the game for a little while if it is having a continued impact on their mental health. It will help them to realise that this is not their entire life.

Where to go for support and advice

Mental wellbeing support

If your child is struggling with their mental wellbeing because of bullying, consider taking them to a GP for some support. They will be able to direct you to a therapist or other mental health services.

Witnessing Hate Speech

Hate speech is often thrown around in online gaming platforms and often can come even if your child or young person is not out online, instead used as a generic insult for many gamers. Witnessing a serious incident of hate speech, whether it was directed to your child or young person or not, can be very damaging for their mental wellbeing and their confidence in who they are.

Coping strategies

  • Talk about what they have seen or been told and identify the pain points – why did it upset them? Was it directed to them?
  • Identify who or where the hate speech came from, and report it through the game.
  • If it is part of a chain of offences, escalate the complaint in line with the procedures of the game.
  • Ensure they know that hate speech is never ok, and it is not because of who they are that this has happened. It is always more of a reflection on the perpetrator than on the victim.
  • As with cases of bullying, consider suggesting they take a break from the game.

Where to go for support and advice

Hate speech and trolling

Trolling is often seen as another form of bullying but can be an ongoing pattern of behaviour that can be quite damaging to children and young people’s mental wellbeing. For example, in a multi-player game, it could be where a player purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users or distract others to win the game. It can make children and young people’s gaming environment more stressful and can be a slope towards experiencing more bullying behaviours.

Coping strategies

  • Where is the trolling happening? How frequently does it happen? What form does the trolling take? Is it stalking in a game, is it verbal insults?
  • See if your child or young person would take a break from the social functions within the game, so they cannot be contacted by the troll during a match.
  • Let them know that you are there for them and they can discuss with you again if the trolling escalates.

Where to go for support and advice

Setting up for success for safe gaming

Play a round with them

The best way for you to understand why your child is willing to risk being harassed or bullied in a game is simply to play it with them. Understand what they enjoy about it, like the strategy, competition, or social elements of the game. A great way to bond with them is over something they love, it will also help you to see just how at risk they are by understanding the way things are communicated within the game and the amount of inappropriate language or interaction actually might take place in an average session.

Find out how to report abuse

Have a conversation with your child on what their favourite games are and do some of your own research. Find out how to report abuse in their favourite games and what the processes are with the companies that produce these games. You may never need to use it but understanding how to do this will give you peace of mind knowing that you can take things further as and when you need to. The reporting varies across games, platforms, and publishers, so it’s best to find out what it is for each of your child’s favourite games.

Talk to your child about oversharing

Oversharing online is something that all children and young people need to be aware of. Have a conversation with the young person and support them to understand that it’s their choice whether they want to come out as LGBTQ+ to the people they game with online. Nobody should have to come out if they are not ready to do so. Equally, if a person does want to come out, they have a right to be treated with respect.

Make sure the young person knows that if they are bullied, harassed, trolled, or otherwise discriminated against online on the basis of being LGBTQ+, this is unacceptable. Let them know you’ll be there to support them if this happens. Support them to identify the steps they can take if this happens to them (e.g. reporting, blocking) and let them know they can tell you what’s happened and you’ll be there to help them.’. The aim of this is not to make them ashamed of their sexuality, but rather to protect them against witnessing harmful abuse or hate speech. It is important to note when discussing this with them that even if they do decide to keep their sexuality or gender identity private, these types of insults might still be thrown around casually within this space.

Set gaming times

As with social media use, talk to them about their time spent gaming and ensure they can balance this with a healthy sleeping pattern and maintaining all their other commitments. It would be more likely that older gamers will be online late in the evening and into the night, whereas gamers their own age will be online earlier and after school. Try to set a timetable that would be able to protect them from older gamers who might be more likely to be abusive or use inappropriate language in the chat function.

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

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

LGBT Youth Scotland support site

Teen advice on where to go for support and guidance.

Ways to get in contact with Childlines counsellors.

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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