The teenage years are difficult, especially if your teen has come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+). In many ways they face the same issues as their heterosexual peers, but they also face unique mental health problems, stigmas and self-esteem issues.
As a parent of a LGBTQ+ teen, you may feel ill-prepared, but parents who embrace their child’s journey, help support and empower them can have a tremendous impact on their future in positive ways.
“Research shows that parents play a critical role in their LGBTQ+ child’s health and wellbeing,” said Rashell Orey, a licensed master social worker with Banner Health. “Teens whose parents don’t accept their child or turn away from them are at a higher risk for homelessness, depression, suicide and addictions. However, family acceptance can protect against these and promote their self-esteem, social support and overall health.”
If you are reading this, you obviously care deeply about your teen’s happiness and wellbeing, but you may be unsure on ways to be there for them as they continue to grow and develop into adulthood.
Here are five things you can start today to support your LGBTQ+ teen.
All They Need Is Love
When a teen comes out to their parents, it can be one of the hardest things they’ll have ever done in their young life. For most families, parents serve as the rock and anchor, so acceptance is key.
Even if you can’t seem to find the words, there is no right or wrong way to express your love for your child. It can be as simple as, “I love you, I accept you, and I will support you no matter what.”
Remember they are still the person you held when they were just born and the same child who still leaves their clothes on the floor, but “they have just chosen to love someone who is the same sex or they are not the same gender they were given,” Orey said.
Encourage Dialogue and Conversation
Most of the challenges of parenting teens can be solved with talking, but if you are a parent of a teen, you know this can be hard—downright impossible. Don’t give up. They may never admit it to you, but they really do want to be able to talk to you about what’s going on in their lives.
A couple ways of approaching topics and conversations with your teen are through less direct ways, such as bringing up characters on TV shows or asking gentle open-ended questions to see if they take the bait.
If your child begins to open up, resist the temptation to ask questions or provide advice – unless they ask or are open to them. Show them you won’t judge, criticize their feelings or tell them how they “should” be feeling.
Watch for Signs of Bullying and Low Self-Esteem
One of your primary responsibilities as a parent is to ensure your child’s safety, which can be more challenging if you have a LGBTQ+ teen. LGBTQ youth, and those perceived as LGBTQ, are at an increased risk of being bullied.
According to a 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 33% of students who self-identified as LGB reported having been bullied on school grounds and 27.1% of them have been cyberbullied in the past year (compared to 17.1% and 13.3% of their heterosexual peers).
“Bullying puts youth at a greater risk for depression, suicidal ideation, risky sexual behavior, especially for LGBTQ teens,” Orey said.
Stay involved in your child’s life, meet their friends, continue to have conversations and show interest in how they spend their day. If you begin to notice changes in behavior, discipline, declining academics and risky behaviors, reach out to their doctor, a licensed behavioral health specialist, guidance counselor or school administrator for help.
Connect Them With LGBTQ+ Support Groups, Organizations and Resources
Empower your teen to connect with LGBTQ+ organizations, support groups and events to meet other people like them. LGBTQ and gay-straight organizations like the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network have shown to positively address inequality and enhance LGBTQ student performance.
There are also plenty of books, movies and other forms of media that display gender diversity in a positive light and can help your child feel more comfortable, confident and empowered to be who they are.
Reach out for education, resources and support groups if you feel the need to have a better understanding of your youth’s experience. Making an effort will help your child feel more supported.
“Learn the language and issues your teen might be facing, educate yourself more about your child’s journey and talk to other parents with an LGBTQ child,” Orey said.
Remember, the greatest gift you can give your teen is love. No matter how they identify or when they tell you, be there for them and accept them for who they are.
Check out these helpful resources for more parenting advice and support:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for youth resources
- Child Welfare Information Gateway, for resources intended for LGBTQ+ youth and their families
- PFLAG, first and largest organization for LGBTQ+ people and their allies
- The Trevor Project, for parents, family and friend of LGBTQ youth