National Coming Out Day, observed on October 11th, is a great time to think about ways to support your LGBTQ+ child. Research shows that LGBTQ+ kids are more likely to come out and live happy, fulfilling lives if their parents are supportive, loving, and accepting. One of the most important things we can do for our kids in this digital age is to help them learn to safely navigate the internet and social media. Today, we’ll talk about how LGBTQ+ people often find safety and community online, but knowing where to look and what to avoid is critical to their well-being and safety.
In many ways, the internet is a vital resource for LGBTQ+ people trying to find their way in this often hostile world. Before the internet, growing up LGBTQ+ in a small or isolated community probably meant you had nowhere to turn and no access to important information.
These days, there are websites, forums, Facebook groups, TikTok channels, etc. that provide affirming and positive messages for LGBTQ+ youth everywhere. They can meet friends, find romance, get access to health resources, find crisis hotlines, or even search special scholarships for LGBTQ+ students. Most of these services are free and anonymous.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably already well acquainted with the risks for your kids online. Inappropriate content, cyber bullying, cyber predators, and sharing too much private information are just some of the dangers we need to educate our kids about. When your child is LGBTQ+, they’re also at risk for anti-LGBTQ+ trolls and seeing some of the awful anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech that is rampant in some corners of the internet. Research also suggests that LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to meet up with someone in person who had deceived them online.
As if that weren’t enough to worry about, the amount of time our kids spend online is probably one of the biggest concerns for modern parents. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the average teen in the U.S. spends a whopping 9 hours a day watching screens. That can lead to poor sleep, poor self-image and body issues, lower grades, not getting enough physical activity, etc. Having clear expectations about screen time and phone use in the house can help mitigate that, and make sure you’re following the rules as well.
Kids today tend to get all of their information from whatever their social media algorithm decides to show them. As a parent, you can help them branch out a bit. Encourage them to follow accounts from non-profits such as Strong Family Alliance, PFLAG, and GLAAD. Do your own research to figure out what kinds of organizations you think will be helpful to your child. Read up on their mission and vision and peruse the content of the website.
Another crucial point is to make sure your child knows they can talk to you about their online activities. Drive the message home that if anything happens online that makes them feel weird or uncomfortable, it’s absolutely essential that they tell someone. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to you about it, help them identify a trustworthy adult in their lives they can turn to if they need help.
Take an interest in what they’re interested in, even if it seems silly to you. If you act dismissive (i.e. “Another TikTok video? That stuff is a waste of time!”) they’ll be much less likely to share this part of their lives with you. Instead, try to gain at least a basic understanding of the apps they’re using, ask questions about them, and make an effort to watch some funny videos together or show them interesting things you come across when scrolling.
Remember that many LGBTQ+ youth turn to the internet to find acceptance. If they feel rejected by their family, they’re more likely to turn to the internet for affirmation. So if you’re concerned about the amount of time your LGBTQ+ child is spending online, you might try first making sure that their home is a safe haven where they can talk openly about their lives.