Did you know that prior to the pandemic, LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. spent 45 minutes more per day online than their heterosexual peers? LGBTQ+ youth have long utilized technology to explore their self-awareness and sexual identity in what feels like a more anonymous and safe way via the Internet. During the pandemic, technology helped fill the social void that resulted from quarantines and isolation for LGBTQ+ youth, increasing further the amount of time LGBTQ+ youth are spending online. Knowing that LGBTQ+ youth are likely to turn to the Internet to connect socially, here is a checklist of things adults in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth can do to support their online experiences.
1. Start with strong safety, privacy and security tips that apply to all young people/users but are especially important to LGBTQ+ teens:
- Set devices for automatic updates for Internet security and virus protection.
- Create strong passwords that are a sentence of at least 12 characters. (e.g., I love eating sundaes on Sundays).
- Enable multi-factor authorization (biometrics, security codes, etc.) whenever possible.
- Remind them to not click on links in tweets, texts, social media messages, and online advertising. Instead, type in the URL directly to avoid phishing scams.
- When using public WI-FI be sure to use a VPN or personal hotspot for a more secure connection.
- When using social media sites, review the available privacy choices, security settings, and the tools the app may offer. At Meta, you can visit Meta’s Family Center, Meta’s Privacy Center or Instagram’s Safety page.
2. Provide a safer way for LGBTQ+ youth to chat with other youth like them through a moderated chat with other teens as well as trained support professionals.
Apps and chat rooms where the content is not moderated put LGBTQ+ youth at risk of having their privacy invaded, being outed on social media, as well as a device security breach. Some online options for LGBTQ+ youth to connect with other LGBTQ+ youth as well as find trained support professionals include:
3. Build their validation by building their self-esteem.
LGBTQ+ teens’ vulnerability can make them an online target for everything from cyberbullying, substance abuse, to human trafficking. Help build self-esteem through online resources such as:
- Validation Station (free texting service that sends gender-affirming and uplifting text messages to trans and non-binary youth).
- PFLAG chapters in local areas can provide virtual support for parents/guardians or LGBTQ+ youth.
- Affirmations for LGBTQ+ youth through GLSEN
4. Recognize the potential dangers from sources you might otherwise trust.
LGBTQ+ youthcan be taken advantage of and put into situations that put them at risk. Pay attention to increased interest from family, close friends, love interests, and even employers in their lives, and do not be afraid to talk to them about any relationships that seem new or out of character.
- Know LGBTQ+ youths’ rights regarding anti-bullying and harassment laws that can protect and/or provide recourse from online bullying.
5. Cyberbullying may take place through social media apps, text messaging, instant messaging, online chatting (forums, chat rooms, message boards), and email.
- Check out your state’s anti-bullying/harassment laws at: https://maps.glsen.org/
- Ask school districts to provide you with the school board policy language regarding bullying and harassment. Look for references to (cyber)bullying that happens online and through social media.
- Demonstrate to LGBTQ+ youth how to report/block content and individuals that are abusive, harmful or negative through social media settings.
- If targeted through indirect forms of harassment through their siblings or friends, be prepared to discuss this with LGBTQ+ siblings and/or notify friends’ parents of LGBTQ+ youth.
- Identify what cyberbullying is and how to report it by going to www.stopbullying.gov
- Online Communities and LGBTQ+ Youth, Human Rights Campaign
- What LGBTQ Communities Should Know About Online Safety, Stay Safe Online
- Queer Youth Exploring Their Identity, One Webpage at a Time, Center for the Study of Social Policy
- National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021, The Trevor Project
- LGBTQI+ Youth, StopBullying.gov
- Social media gives support to LGBTQ youth when in-person communities are lacking, The Conversation
- Out Online, GLSEN
- Analysis of 2020 National Human Trafficking Hotline Data, Polaris