This year, many teens are starting the new school year from home. While some teens benefit from the flexibility of distance learning, nearly every student worries about the loss of in-person time with classmates, teachers, and friends.
For teens who identify as LGBTQ, a semester of social distancing may mean being apart from the only LGBTQ people they know. Even when they live with supportive family members, spending time with peers and role models who have similar gender identities or sexual orientation affirms and uplifts LGBTQ teens in their own identity. The good news is that organizations are stepping up across the country to create new ways for LGBTQ youth to stay in touch with each other. And social media platforms teens already love can be great tools for not only keeping their support network alive but also for meeting new friends and mentors they can turn to for advice and community.
If your teen identifies as LGBTQ, there are safe, supportive, and healthy ways you can help keep them connected to their LGBTQ peers.
Spaces to Talk
Conversations with LGBTQ peers and mentors can have a strong positive impact on well-being. Whether teens need advice on coming out, help dealing with gender dysphoria, or just want to chat about LGBTQ characters or celebrities, talking to someone who personally relates to those things is especially meaningful. Fortunately, there are all kinds of communities where teens can connect. Facebook groups bring people together around gender identity and sexual orientation no matter where they are. There are local groups on Facebook, too, which can help teens find LGBTQ community closer to home.
Teens can also bond with peers on fan sites or forums dedicated to hobbies. Some teens love the comments sections of webcomics and fan fiction – they might spend hours reading comments and laughing. Some use dating apps to make friends and strike up conversations with people who share their interests and background. Many LGBTQ-only apps include posts from people looking to expand their social circle, rather than looking for romantic interests. The Trevor Project, a youth-focused LGBTQ organization, launched their own online community hub called TrevorSpace. It’s an online community where young people can find support, make friends, and share their thoughts and feelings.
We recommend parents sit down with their teen and read – together – the Commonsense Media review of Trevorspace before making a decision about whether it’s a good fit for their family.
Another big part of feeling connected is having an experience with a group of people. While concerts are canceled and most sports seasons are canceled or delayed at the moment, teens can get the thrill of joining in with others by attending or following events online. Livestreams of music performances and video game tournaments were surging in popularity before public health officials created social distancing guidelines and set limits on the size of public gatherings. Now more people than ever participate in the chat and comment corners that accompany online concerts and games.
LGBTQ artists and gamers build communities that connect people around social causes, awareness movements, and advocacy events. Concerts and game streams that fundraise for LGBTQ organizations provide teens with entertainment and connection. They also show LGBTQ teens that there are people out there who care and promote their safety and equality. And even though their physical doors may be closed for now, many local LGBTQ centers host appropriately distanced events, from poetry slams to video-based shows and voguing classes.
Unplugged Options for Building Distanced Connections
Of course, online spaces aren’t the only ways teens can share their thoughts and connect with others while staying socially distanced. Exchanging letters with a supportive friend or family member can be a great way for teens to express feelings that can be hard to share out loud. Instant online communication is amazing, but there’s something extra about getting a real card or letter in the mail. A good old-fashioned pen pal exchange can amplify an online friendship, and setting up activities like scavenger hunts or documenting their life for art and history groups like LGBTQuarantine Project can get teens active, busy, and outdoors with both friendship and purpose in mind.
Distancing Still Requires Safety
While distancing can help keep us all safe from COVID-19, socializing online has risks of its own. Make sure your teen practices internet safety. Stay engaged with what they do and who they talk to. Remember, too, that there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of using social media. Help your teen set boundaries around how much time they spend online. Talk to them about the ways social media can increase feelings of loneliness and harm self-esteem. When teens are safe and smart about finding and building their online LGBTQ community, they get the most out of it. Once they can meet safely in real life again, they might have even more options for supportive, affirming connections than they did before.