Addressing online activity with LGBT+ young people.

A twitter pal bought this to my attention last month and I haven’t had a moment to finish this post until now. Many apologies for the tardiness of this post! I can’t embed the video on my blog (but it is available in the twitter link above) but basically it shows a 15 year old Mitchell in gloriously contoured makeup talking about whether he fancied boys or girls and informing the viewer that if he had to put a label on it he might be bisexual. It then showed two adults sat with him in a room confronting him about his Tinder profile.

Shaming an LGBT+ young person for their use of social media to meet people is generally unhelpful in terms of safeguarding them from harm. Due to prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT+ communities, Young people who identify as LGBT+ can often struggle to meet other young people experiencing similar things to what they experience and forming romantic relationships can be difficult. Social media can offer a forum to meet likeminded folk and a space to explore your identity.

At 15 this young person is under the age of consent (which in the U.K. (except Northern Ireland) is 16 for both opposite and same sex experiences. The website Tindr (which is mildly less of a ‘meatmarket’ than its counterpart Grindr) has a minimum age limit of 18  however young people frequently join websites before they are able too. As far as I am aware there are no UK laws preventing young people from signing up to websites so the teacher reference to illegality was misplaced. What would be illegal would be if the young person took a sexually explicit picture and shared that as that can be classed as transmitting ‘child pornography’ if under 18.

The admonishing of the young person and demand that he delete the app was unhelpful and ultimately unsucessful in changing his behaviour. You could tell it came from a place of genuine care and concern for the young person, but as you saw in the next clip he had deleted the app from another phone and was still using the app and checking his matches. All the staff had succeeded in doing was driving his behaviour underground.

How could this situation have been dealt with better? Firstly the young person needs access to an LGBT+ youth group- a space to be himself and meet other young people supported by experienced LGBT+ youth workers. Those youth workers could also be present in safeguarding meetings about app use and the tone of the conversation should have been exploring why Tindr was being used, what was hoped to get from using the app, what the possible risks were and how to mitigate those risks. Young people are often a lot more savvy in their social media use than adults give them credit for and many of them are a lot better at sussing people contacting them for nefarious purposes than we think. Having said that, young gay men in particular are vulnerable to child sexual exploitation and this can often be missed in current drives by local authorities to address CSE as the focus is often on vulnerable girls.

It’s wonderful that the young man said he wasn’t bullied at school and full credit to the school for that, as for many young people I work with school is not a happy environment for them. I would hope that he can access a Manchester based LGBT+ support group such as the fabulous folk at the Proud Trust.  I also think internet safety more generally needs to be addressed comprehensively as part of PSHE lessons in the school and I think the staff might benefit from attending some additional training around supporting LGBT+ youth at school.

If you are in the South West for local help and support for LGBT+ and training for professionals do get in touch with Off The Record Bath and North East Somerset, or consider donating so we can continue working to help local kids like Mitchell find their own wonderful rainbow path in the world.

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