Remember that feeling when you read something and you know it just GETS you?
It doesn’t matter if it’s a quote in a book, a text from a close friend, or a social media post from someone you follow because the feeling’s the same. Down to your core, you feel seen.
It’s the difference between sympathy and understanding because sympathy says, “I support you because I can imagine how you feel.” Understanding says, “I support you because I’ve been there too.”
When you find a person or community who understands, you want to spend more time there, right? It’s not because sympathy doesn’t help! It’s because you’ve found a place where you feel understood on the deepest level.
The same is true for your LGBTQ+ teenager or kid.
Social media is a powerful tool to satisfy their craving for relationships, community, and authenticity.
Now, let’s stop you right there and clarify.
The fact that LGBTQ+ kids feel safe, connected, and encouraged on social media doesn’t automatically mean you’re an unsupportive parent. You could create the most welcoming home environment but if you’ve never had a coming out experience, a piece of your kid’s journey will always be a little different than yours. There is a unique set of LBGTQ+ issues that they will face.
At home, your kid may find unconditional love in a secure relationship with you. Online, they may find support in a community walking in their exact shoes. Both pieces are essential for your kid to thrive.
But, don’t LGBTQ+ kids experience more cyberbullying online?
Lots of research has focused on this and with good reason. LGBTQ+ youth experience 3x more cyberbullying than their straight peers and more than 50% develop depression as a result.
We get it. It’s natural to think eliminating social media will protect your kid. No access to the risk, no negative impact, right?
Removing social media isn’t the answer.
If you know anything about us, you know we never believe in restrictions!
Instead, parents of LGBTQ+ youth have a special way they can get involved to create supportive environments for their kids.
1) Connect them with a healthy online LGBTQ+ community.
Think back to the feeling we talked about earlier. That moment when you felt seen because you found someone walking the exact path as you. It filled a space inside that even the deepest sympathy couldn’t quite reach.
Because of technology and smartphones, your kid can meet friends online and access LGBTQ+ resources like never before.
Removing social media doesn’t mean the possibility of negative experiences is gone forever. In fact, it might just do the opposite. If your kid is left out online, they may feel isolated from their friends or become an even bigger target for cyberbullying. Isn’t this exactly what we’re trying to avoid?
Rather, the positive impact of social media on LGBTQ+ kids is extensive. It can help them:
- express themselves in a way they might not be able to offline.
- receive support and camaraderie from others that helps them navigate difficult situations.
- feel less like outsiders as they build friendships with like-minded people all over the world.
- witness the power and joy of living authentic lives.
As they develop these relationships, many LGBTQ+ kids feel their online friends are significantly more supportive than their in-person friends. Your kid needs this to thrive, especially if they feel scared to be themselves outside the house.
Social media also connects them with important organizations and communities online like the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and the It Gets Better Project. These spaces were specifically created for supporting LGBTQ+ communities and provide a treasure chest of education, resources, and support for kids and families.
So, weigh these positives in your mind when thinking about your LGBTQ+ kid having social media. It’s popular to demonize it but the reality is not so black and white.
Now, we’re not saying there are no risks involved but that’s where you come in.
2) Actively get involved with their online world.
You took the most important step by accepting and supporting your LGBTQ+ kid when they came out to you. Never forget the impact of that!
But, maybe you’re wondering, “how do I provide that same support in their online world while keeping them safe?”
First, set aside the assumption that online friends are less important than offline ones.
This may seem counterintuitive at first and we get it! Many of us remember the days when our relationships were primarily in person. With our kids, social media is a key part of growing up, a change that’s shifted the way they make and keep friends.
If your LGBTQ+ kid doesn’t feel like they can be themselves with their friends and classmates in person, they can still find support in their online community.
These relationships can empower your kid to live authentically.
When you value these relationships as much as your kid’s offline friends, your actions speak louder than words. You show your kid your priority is that they have healthy, supportive friendships, no matter where they develop.
Second, chat about the positive things they’ve seen on social media!
It’s tempting to be overwhelmed by the fear that your kid is being cyberbullied and make that the focus of a conversation. Let’s take a step back though, and think about the impact on your kid.
When fear drives a conversation, they can sense this and may begin withdrawing. Instead of feeling confident about sharing things with you, they may worry honesty will provoke a negative response and decide to not share at all.
Avoid this pitfall and encourage openness by:
- exploring resources from supportive organizations together
- talking about their favorite LGBTQ+ influencers
- asking what online encouragement or advice has been helpful recently
- and more
Experiencing this positive involvement lays the groundwork for trust. As that deepens, your kid will feel safe and secure to open up about anything negative as well.
For every family, navigating social media with your LGBTQ+ kid will look different.
We can’t tell you how that will look for yours. Instead, we encourage you to reject the popular demonization of social media and consider the positive impact it could have on your kid.
With you at their side, what relationships could they develop to help them thrive?