Being a teen is difficult enough, but for those in the LGBT community, the real and digital worlds can be even worse. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth experience nearly three times as much bullying and harassment online as a non-LGBT youth.
GLSEN, an organization which tries to create LGBT inclusion in schools across the US, has found that 42 percent of LGBT youth have experienced cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying of LGBT youth is three times higher than other students’ experience, 33% report sexual harassment online, 27% do not feel safe online, and 20% report receiving harassing text messages from other students (GLSEN)
As a result, in 2014, The American Psychological Association passed a resolution calling on educational, governmental, business, and funding agencies to address issues of in person bullying as well as cyberbullying. In the resolution, they particularly addressed acts of harassment “about race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” In addition, the resolution emphasizes the high rate of bullying around the specific issue of sexual orientation.
Risks of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can take many forms. Here are some of the most common risks that LGBT teens face online:
Sadly, LGBT youth are the target of much discrimination, both in school and online. According to nobullying.com, 35% have received threats online, 58% say something bad is said to them or about them online, 33% report sexual harassment online, and 20% report receiving harassing text messages from other students. These numbers are about three to four times higher than other student’s experiences. Many LGBT teens use the internet and social media as a safe place to connect with other LGBT teens and groups, to make friends, and gather information, and this online presence makes them a larger target for cyberbullying.
If a teen mentions their sexual orientation through a text to or private chat to a friend, the teen’s secret can easily get out if the “friend” screenshots it. It can then quickly get spread around the student body, “outing” the victim without their consent. So even if they try to protect their privacy by using a social app like Snapchat, the permanent record of a screenshot can be damaging.
“Friends” or strangers could bond online over time with the teen; they could then start to send or share inappropriate messages or pictures. The “friend” may save the pictures or messages and abuse them at a later time by threatening to send or spreading them around online. Others may send or even request unwanted sexts to teens, typically involving crude commentary.
LGBT and boys that question their sexual identity are more likely to be targeted by internet offenders. Teens have been physically attacked when meeting up with someone they have met online. In most cases, the stranger attempted to portray themselves as interested in having a relationship or sex, then abused their target when they show up.
Cyberbullying Effects on Mental Health
Due to the prevalence of bullying of LGBT teens, only 37% of LGBT youth report being happy, compared to non-LGBT youth, where 67% say state that they are happy. Studies have found that LGBT people have much higher rates of depression and anxiety, no doubt due to the increased rates of discrimination and bullying. These negative effects on mental health can lead to many self-destructive behaviors such as:
LGBT youth are more than twice as likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol to cope with bias and stress.
With every verbal and/or physical harassment, the risk of self-injury among LGBT youth is 2 ½ times more likely. (Rainbow Health)
According to the website stopbullying.gov, LGBT teenagers are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other teenagers. If the family of the LGBT youth rejects them, they are 8 times more likely to commit suicide than other non-LGBT teens.
What Can Parents Do?
There are a few things parents can do to support their LGBT teen.
Ongoing communication between the parent and teen are crucial. Parents must provide support, stay involved, and be proactive. It is always a good idea for parents to engage in open and honest discussions with their teen about sexuality and how to avoid unsafe situations.
Experts agree that parents should be supportive of their teen’s sexual orientation so they can jointly develop common goals. Staying involved with the teen’s interests and getting to know their friends can help them feel cared about. Finally, parents should take time to research organizations and online resources to learn more about the LGBT community and how to support their teen. Teens whose parents have showed positive and open support to the LGBT community have children that find it easier to talk to them when questions arise about their own sexual orientation or curiosity.
Also, make sure they know about the It Gets Better a program designed to help at-risk LGBT youth, and Born This Way, an organization that is committed to supporting the wellness of young people. Encourage your teen to keep this number close by if they feel like they cannot talk to you or a trusted family member or friend:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – (800) 273-8255, toll-free in the US.