Billed as the first study to deeply explore the Internet experiences of LGBT youth, Out Online: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet drew on a national survey of 5,680 students in middle and high school.
Reported effects of bullying included lowered self-esteem, higher likelihood of depression, and lowered grade point averages. But while the Internet exposed respondents to more harassment, users also reported increased peer support, access to health information, and opportunities for civic engagement.
"The Internet does not serve to simply reinforce the negative dynamics found offline regarding bullying and harassment," said Michelle Ybarra, the president and research director of the Center for Innovative Health Research, in a statement. "Rather, this technology also offers LGBT youth critical tools for coping with these negative experiences."
The study found LGBT youth nearly twice as likely to research medical information online (81 percent of LGBT youth vs. 46 percent of non-LGBT youth), with transgender youth proving particularly proactive. Half reported having at least one close friend online, as compared to only 19 percent of their non-LGBT peers who said they had at least one close friend online.
This study begs the question? Are LGBT youth worse off because of cyber-bullying or better of more information and easier access to that information? I tend to think LGBT youth are better off because they have greater and easier access of information about sexuality and health. From my experience as a teacher, LGB youth are more accepted by their peers, even those only perceived to be LGB. (I exclude the "T" because, and not to sound insensitive, transsexual youth are not yet as easily understood by the current generation.) It is often socially unacceptable to bully your peers face-to-face; however, we all know that some people can use the internet to be jerks and bully those who they wouldn't have the courage to bully in person.
Bullying is going to happen. We can try to prevent it in our schools, but we cannot be everywhere all the time. We have to also rely on students to report the problem. I do think most schools do a remarkable job of preventing bullying on campus, but cyber-bullying is something we had a harder time controlling. Kids can use anonymity to cyber-bully, and they can also prevent parents and faculty from monitoring social media by keeping their Twitter, Instagram, Kik and Facebook accounts private and/or secret.
It's a new generation, a new world, and new technology that makes cyber-bullying possible. We must remain more vigilant in our protection of our youth. At the same time, we should encourage LGBT youth to use the internet in a positive way and to gain greater information about their sexuality. Let the positive aspects of the internet, networking and information, outweigh the negative impact of cyber-bullying.