Guest blog post written by Hilary Smith

online safetyIt’s no secret that raising teens is difficult. Our sons and daughters are met with the time honored typical adolescent woes of puberty and finding oneself. Awkward phases and hormonal changes are troublesome in their own right, but today’s kids are also dealing with a host of problems associated with technology, devices, and online activity. Granted, online safety is a pressing issue for all children, but it presents a few more challenges for our LGBTQ teens.

Digital Pitfalls Facing LGBTQ Teens

Research has found that 43 percent of all youth have been bullied or harassed online. This online victimization has led to lower self-esteem, increased rates of depression, drops in school performance, and elevated thoughts of suicide. Bullying is traumatic for any child, however, LGBTQ teens are three times as likely as their peer counterparts to be bullied or harassed online!

To put this into perspective, consider the following LGBTQ teen facts:

  • 42 percent (versus 15 percent non-LGBTQ peers) were bullied or harassed online
  • 27 percent (versus 13 percent) have been attacked by text messages
  • 35 percent have received online threats
  • 58 percent had something negative said to them or about them online
  • 27 percent do not feel safe online

6 Need-to-Know Online Safety Tips for LGBTQ Teens

Just because our children identify as LGBTQ, doesn’t mean we should neglect the digital aspect of their lives.  It’s important to begin an ongoing conversation about the role technology plays in their lives and ways to stay safe. Remember to listen and stay calm, because our ultimate goal is to make our teens to feel safe when voicing their thoughts and feelings.

Listed below are six tips for empowering LGBTQ teens to safely navigate today’s technology:

Only friend people they know in real life. This is crucial, because many cyberbullies and online predators use fake accounts to take advantage of the anonymity the Internet provides. These predators design personas that appeal to our sons and daughters to make contact. In the beginning, these cons attempt to make their victims feel comfortable and believe they are friends. After building a relationship, the culprit elicits private or embarrassing information, photos, or secrets to use as blackmail or share online. It’s important for our teens to heed this advice, because many of their peers don’t understand their orientation or gender identity and, in response, may target our sons and daughters.

Teach kids how to protect their personal information and avoid oversharing. Our sons and daughters are often a minority in their schools and may feel isolated. Thankfully, the Internet and social media have made it possible for our children to seek emotional support and information with the tap of a screen. However, our kids need to be careful not to share vital information like real names, photos, birth dates, addresses, school schedules, and more. In addition, help them adjust their privacy settings or location tracking on sites, apps, and even their cell phones.

Never meet someone in real life without “okaying” it first with a parent. This is a good rule for any child, but especially for our LGBTQ kids. If we agree to allow a child to meet someone, choose a public place and accompany him or her.

online safetyEncourage teens to tell us immediately if they see, hear, or read something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Our kids are often curious about the ins-and-outs of their sexuality or gender identification, this often leads to searching for answers online and may lead them to seedy parts of the Internet or social media. By keeping us informed, we will be alerted to potential cyberbullying, inappropriate content, or exploitation. If needed, consider taking advantage of monitoring software so you can stay up-to-date on developing problems or messages.

Let kids know it’s alright to say no to sexting. Many teens view sexting as a normal activity and a safe alternative to sex. However, they need to realize that sending or receiving sexual images might be considered a felony depending on their ages. Besides the obvious legal nightmare and required registration as a sexual predator, images have a nasty habit of coming back to haunt you. Once a photo is sent, even with disappearing apps, there is no guarantee that the recipient won’t take a screenshot, circulate it, or use it as blackmail. Let teens know it is alright to set boundaries to protect themselves.

A good rule of thumb for kids to follow is to only share or post items they feel comfortable with a grandparent seeing. “The Grandma Rule” can help prevent a lot of heartache and problems from developing. Most experts recommend keeping illegal activities, underage drinking, inappropriate conduct, and racy comments offline.

What tips do you have for keeping your LGBTQ teen safe online?