OPINION: Importance of respecting young people’s curiosity in Pride Month

Youngsters taking part in Norwich Pride 

Youngsters taking part in Norwich Pride - Credit: Archant

Emma Motherwell of the NSPCC says there is plenty of information available for parents and children

As children and young people grow up it’s natural for them to develop and express their sexuality in healthy ways.

Older teenagers may start dating or having relationships, while children may show curiosity about sex or the changes that happen during puberty. Many young people question their sexuality or who they’re attracted to while growing up, or find their sexuality can change over time.

There are many different types of sexuality or sexual orientation, and young people may use different terms to describe how they feel. LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and more. Gender identity is different from sexuality.

At Childline, our volunteer counsellors regularly speak to children and young people about gender identity and sexuality. In the last year alone our counsellors delivered 4,125 counselling sessions to young people on this subject. The top five issues that young people spoke about were:

● Experiences of coming out

● Questioning their sexuality or gender identity

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● Gender dysphoria

● Discrimination and prejudice related to sexuality or gender identity

● Self-acceptance

As young people have returned to school following the pandemic we have also seen a rise in young people reaching out for support due to bullying because of their sexuality and gender identity.

While many young people have expressed happiness about being back at school, sadly some children who identify as LGBTQ+ were re-exposed to in-person bullying, and many have struggled with being in an environment where they are labelled as different.

During times of lockdown, many LGBTQ+ young people told our counsellors that they struggled being away from their support networks, but others also said the lockdown provided respite from the bullying they faced every day at school.

That’s why during this Pride Month, Childline is keen to highlight the importance of respecting young people’s curiosity and self-expression when it comes to sexuality and gender identity. The charity believes that all young people should be free to explore their sexuality and gender free from fear, shame or bullying.

We know that this sadly isn’t the case for all children as they are made to feel isolated and different from their peers and this is reinforced through news stories too, such as the recent decision by Government to not include trans people in the proposed ban on conversion therapy.

Not all children and young people will feel comfortable talking to their parents or carers about their sexuality and sadly some families might not be supportive when they do. It’s really important for parents and carers to listen to how their children feel and let them talk at their own pace. Always remain calm and never pressure them to speak to you if they don’t feel like it at the time.

If they don’t want to speak to you let them know that our Childline counsellors are there for them free and in confidence all year round on 0800 1111 and they can also speak to our counsellors online at www.childline.org.uk

Adults outside the child's family, such as teachers, sports coaches or extended family can provide valuable support too.

Being able to talk to a trusted adult who'll listen in a non-judgmental way can really help a young person to feel accepted and less alone. If you’re worried about a child you know who's being bullied because of their sexual or gender identity, or who's experiencing abuse at home, you can call the NSPCC helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000.

We know that LGBTQ+ young people are more at risk of grooming and child sexual exploitation. If any of these things are happening, it's important to get help right away. Our trained helpline counsellors can provide support and advice online at www.nspcc.org.uk or over the phone.