LGBTQ+ Kids at Increased Risk of Bullying—Here's How to Help

teen girl looking sad in a school hallway

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Key Takeaways

  • 52% of LGBTQ+ students surveyed in a new report from the Trevor Project said they were bullied in 2020.
  • The report also found that middle school students are at higher risk for bullying than high school students and that transgender and nonbinary students are at the highest risk for bullying.
  • Parents should show support for children who are bullied by helping them stand up to bullies, involving the school where necessary, and getting professional support for children who are struggling.

More than half of LGBTQ+ students in middle and high school were bullied in 2020. That alarming statistic comes from a report from the Trevor Project, released October 14th, 2021. These teens and preteens were also at higher risk of attempted suicide because of being bullied both on and offline.

Many students participated in digital education in 2020, but that didn't curb the reports of bullying. Instead, students faced taunting online.

Bullying can have long-lasting effects, so it is important to teach children to respect others, as well as to help those who've been bullied. Here's what parents can do.

A Look at the Report

The Trevor Project gathered data from October to December 2020 by polling 34,759 youth through targeted social media ads. The report showed that 52% of LGBTQ+ students surveyed reported being bullied in the past year, whether electronically or in person.

All students surveyed were either in middle school or high school. More middle school students reported being bullied than high school students (65% compared to 49%) and when compared to cisgender students, transgender and nonbinary students reported a higher rate of bullying (61%). 

Thirty-three percent of students said they’d been bullied in person, but 42% said they’d been bullied online. What’s more alarming is that the LGBTQ+ students who were bullied were much more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. However, schools that were affirming of LGBTQ+ youth proved to be a better environment for the students. LGBTQ+ students reported 30% lower odds of being bullied in these schools. 

What to Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

Parents should always remain vigilant when it comes to their child’s behavior, especially as it relates to school. “When a child is being bullied, it often shows up at home as changes in their usual behavior or attitude,” said Michelle M. Reynolds, PhD, a clinical psychologist. “Some kids will start having difficulty sleeping, exhibit changes in appetite, have outbursts of temper, or stop enjoying favorite activities.”

Dr. Reynolds added that when children change their attitude about school or their social habits—like sitting at a different lunch table or getting a ride home from school with a different friend—it could be a sign of bullying. 

Keeping an open line of communication is also important, says Jennifer Weber, PsyD, the director of behavioral health for PM Pediatrics Behavioral Health. This makes it easier to pinpoint if bullying is happening. “Make it a habit to talk to your children about their day from the beginning so they are in the habit of expecting the questions and providing honest answers,” she said. “Be transparent about your observations and concerns using age- and developmentally appropriate language.”

It can sometimes be hard to get your teenager to talk to you. You can mitigate this by directly asking them questions about bullying, especially if you’re concerned it might be happening to them. “Using non-confrontational questions is helpful," says Dr. Reynolds. "Some examples are, ‘How are things going with kids at school?’ or ‘Are there any kids that seem to have a harder time with other students at school?’ This can help ease into conversations about the topic of bullying.”

If you find your child is being bullied—whether they’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or not—it’s important to act immediately to ensure they’re safe. Dr. Reynolds suggests telling your child to confront their bully and ask them to stop if they are comfortable doing so. She said it can be a very effective method, especially if your child can confront their bully in private, where they’re more likely to listen.

However, if your child’s bully makes them feel unsafe, the best course of action may be going straight to school administrators or even the bully’s parents. "Inform the administration as well as classroom teachers early,” Dr. Weber said. “They can be instrumental in catching and addressing this behavior early, discouraging the aggressor. In most cases, the school will also help broker the interactions between sets of parents to keep it civil, appropriate, and documented.”

Dr. Reynolds also suggests sharing any of your own personal stories of struggles in school, so your child can see they aren’t alone. Even if you relate to exactly why they are being bullied, you were a teen at one time too, and probably have a story to share about someone who was mean to you. This is key in showing them support.

Jennifer Weber, PsyD

Make it a habit to talk to your children about their day from the beginning so they are in the habit of expecting the questions and providing honest answers.

— Jennifer Weber, PsyD

How to Support LGBTQ+ Children

Support and acceptance start at home. It can still be incredibly difficult to be an LGBTQ+ teen, which is evidenced by the Trevor Project’s research. If you’re loving and accepting of your child at home, though, it can help build their confidence, which can make it easier to deal with bullies at school.

Dr. Reynolds said, though, that you and your teen shouldn’t be afraid to ask for even more help from a professional. “If your child is having general difficulties with confidence, assertiveness, or social relationships, I encourage parents or caregivers to consider a few sessions with a therapist to focus on skill-building,” she said. “A parent coaching specialist can also be a great resource to discuss parenting concerns and find strategies to help your child and family be their best.” 

Dr. Weber also pointed toward the increased risk of suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youth, suggesting parents be open about it with their children to try to prevent it from happening. “Although this is scary, it is important to check in early and often with your children and let them know your concerns,” she said. “Develop a plan before it happens so your child knows you are aware that such issues exist and are open to processing with them.”

Even if your LGBTQ+ child isn’t being bullied, it’s important to encourage them to be an ally to anyone who is struggling in school and promote acceptance among their peers. The more people who stand up to bullies, the less bullying will happen.

What This Means For You

One of the most important things parents and educators can do to support LGBTQ+ youth is to be knowledgeable about the resources available, especially hotlines that can help. Parents should familiarize themselves with hotlines provided by PFLAG, including The Trevor Project, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline, and more. Share these resources with your children as well and make sure they know that there’s someone on the other end of all those phone lines who will listen if they need it. 

Open lines of communication with your child can help if they’re being bullied, so don’t be afraid to talk to them. Let them know that you’re there to listen and help them through even the most difficult times.

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  1. The Trevor Project. Bullying and Suicide Risk Among LGBTQ Youth. October 14, 2021.