Nine out of ten LGBTQ youth reported experiencing bullying in the past year. And LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience physical assault as their peers. During National Bullying Prevention Month in October, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of bullying, and how you can help those impacted. 

Bullying is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger or more powerful.” Symptoms of someone who is being bullied include isolation, declining grades, disinterest in eating, poor sleep habits, and irritability and anger.

While much of the literature about bullying is targeted to youth, LGBTQ adults also still experience bullying, though often in forms that are less overt. For example, exclusion from social events, being the subject of gossip or being targeted on social media are a few of the ways LGBTQ adults are victims of bullying. Further, LGBTQ adults may have experienced more aggressive, traumatizing bullying in their youth and are still recovering from its affects.

What can a parent or caregiver do to help bullied LGBTQ youth? The most important way for any person to combat bullying is to tell someone! Many victims feel shame or feel they can “handle it” until they no longer can or are in crisis. According to Stopbullying.gov, only 20 to 30% of students ever report bullies. But studies show that having at least one person stand with a victim as an ally is often all it takes to stop the bullying.

Parents and guardians are students’ best allies and advocates. Parents should investigate school situations to find out who is creating a negative environment for their loved one. They should involve the administration when appropriate and help them draft a specific LGBTQ bullying policy if one does not already exist.

However, protecting your child extends beyond the school yard to their digital devices as well. Cyberbullying is as pervasive and damaging as in-person bullying. Parents should monitor their child’s social media, turn off comments, and block users when necessary. They should also encourage their child to take plenty of breaks from digital devices and pursue creative outlets or physical exercise, both of which boast proven mental health benefits.

LGBTQ adults are equally as susceptible to cyberbullying as the younger generation. Be conscientious about your social media use. If you notice that time spent on a certain social media platform often results in negative emotions, then choose to disengage from that platform.

Healing starts with seeking help – For students who suffer from the after-effects of bullying, therapy and talking through these negative emotions is an essential first step toward healing. Parents might also consider seeking out a therapist who specializes in LGBTQ issues.

LGBTQ adults who were victims of bullying are also encouraged to seek therapy to process past experiences and understand its impact on their present-day mental health. Many may also find healing by volunteering for a local group that supports LGBTQ youth. Volunteering with a youth hotline or helping students at their local school form a Gay-Straight-Alliance program, can also be very empowering and help transform a negative past experience into a teaching tool that can positively impact the next generation.

Bullying is a pervasive problem that negatively impacts the lives of millions of people each year, sometimes in tragic ways—and the LGBTQ community is disproportionally affected by bullying. If you have been affected by bullying, seek help. And take the opportunity to partner with the next generation of LGBTQ youth to create a more supportive and kind world.  

Carrie Etheridge, LCSW-C, is the director of social work responsible for planning and directing policies for social work and related professional counseling services in Sheppard Pratt’s inpatient and day programs.

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