It’s important that children and teenagers feel able to talk to and relate to people as they grow up, so they can share experiences, develop their confidence and know that they’re not alone, but this can be particularly difficult for LGBTQ+ children and young people. Here, we look at some ways they can interact with their peers safely. By Parent Zone’s Yusuf Tamanna.
Why is social interaction so important?
Getting to know new people can be difficult for all children as they grow up. But for LGBTQ+ young people, it can sometimes be particularly challenging to interact with others, as they can often feel like they don’t fit in or belong.
It’s important to ensure your child can talk to their peers from a young age, as it can have a lasting effect on their social development as they grow up.
Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Maite Ferrin, explains: ‘Children who are more socially connected are healthier and are at less risk of developing mental health problems.
‘In addition, studies show that social relationships have short- and long-term effects on health, and that these effects start early in childhood and persist throughout adult life.’
This applies to interactions that take place both face-to-face and in online spaces.
It can be difficult for parents of children who identify as LGBTQ+, or think their child is LGBTQ+, to know how to help their child meet other young people. As a starting point, here are some apps and groups that could help.
What’s out there?
A selection of ways LGBTQ+ young people meet others
Meet up apps
There are various messaging apps designed to help LGBTQ+ adults interact with each other and organise meeting up. Most, like Grindr, are for those aged 18 and over, but worryingly, some young people are using them as a way to connect with people they feel will understand them.
Many of these services are ‘geo-social’ apps, which means they display a user’s location to other people on the service. This could leave underage users vulnerable to approaches from adults on the service who will assume they’re over 18. Parents of LGBTQ+ children, or those who think they may be, even if their child hasn’t yet come out, should talk to them about the risks of signing up to any service meant for adults.
Facebook has hundreds of groups for LGBTQ+ teens. They can range from general support and advice or a place to make friends, to a space where they can talk about their favourite TV shows. One of the most popular groups on Facebook is LGBT Teens 13-19, with almost 2,000 members. It’s specifically for teens and has a disclaimer that anyone either younger or older will not be accepted into the group. The group itself is closed, and users can only get access once their account has been reviewed by the group moderators.
For trans teens
If your child thinks they might be transgender or they’re questioning their gender, Mermaids is an online space designed solely for teens. It offers support and information, videos and a lively forum chat. There’s also a space on the website for parents of transgender teens, with resources and a separate forum. Mermaids also runs monthly group meet-ups, facilitated by members of the organisation.
Is this group/app safe?
Consider the following before your child signs up for a service:
- Check if the group has an age restriction.
- The general tone and atmosphere of the group should be positive, encouraging and supportive.
- Closed groups are better at reviewing and vetting their members compared to public groups. Users can block people who don’t abide by the rules or who act in a way to upset or undermine other people in the group.
- Is the group regularly moderated? All Facebook groups have moderators and they approve all the posts in a group and can block or remove people from the group. If the moderators have an active presence in the group, they are likely to deal with negative behaviour quickly and members are more inclined to play by the rules.
What if my child is experiencing problems?
- Your child should report any abuse to the group moderators.
- Tell them to block any users who they feel are behaving inappropriately towards them.
- If your child still has issues and doesn’t feel comfortable in a group, encourage them to take time out, or leave.
Away from the online world, there are community centres across the country that host LGBTQ+ youth groups that parents can encourage their child to attend.
LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall has a detailed list of approved youth groups they recommend to young people wanting to meet other LGBTQ+ people and make friends. These centres host ice-breaker events, confidence and self-esteem workshops and advice on how to handle LGBTQ+ related bullying in school.
Support and information for parents
Here are some useful links to organisations with expert information that parents can refer to, and pass on to their child if they think or know they’re LGBTQ+.
Proud Trust www.theproudtrust.org/resources/parents/
BeLonG To Youth Services www.belongto.org/service.aspx?sectionid=144
It Gets Better www.itgetsbetter.org/
Parent Zone LGBTQ+ advice hub www.parentzone.org.uk/LGBTQ+-hub
LGBTQ+ glossary www.parentinfo.org/article/lgbtq-glossary-for-parents
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.