Supporting LGBTQ Teens
Parents’ support for their LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer) teens is critical to their healthy development. Whether straight or LGBTQ, every young person thrives when they understand that their parents love and accept them just as they are. This is likely the most protective force for teens’ as they navigate life’s ups and downs.
Too many LGBTQ youths endure challenges as they come out, making parents’ unconditional love and acceptance that much more important. Research and experience shows that when families support LGBTQ youth, they reap a range of positive benefits including greater self‐esteem, better general health, and strengthened family relationships. Critically, family acceptance also protects against bullying, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Create an Accepting Household
Even young children watch how their parents react to others. They learn whether their parents are likely to accept or condemn those who are different. They learn whether their parents are open to listening, learning, and growing.
Every adolescent is busy answering that foundational question, “Who Am I?” Most young people worry they may not be acceptable in some way to the people whose opinion matters most to them – their parents. LGBTQ youth often know about their orientation or identity long before they speak about it. They may be concerned about whether their parents will find this part of them acceptable. For this and so many other reasons, households that accept people who are different from them set the tone for healthy development. If you wouldn’t describe your home as currently accepting, for the sake of your child, reflect on making some efforts to grow in this area.
Support Your LGBTQ Teen
Open communication is the key to strong family relationships. Your LGBTQ teen will reap the rewards of open communication as well. Coming-out is a process, and being a good listener and universally supportive sets the tone for productive communication. In other words, showing support is essential even if your teen hasn’t “come out” yet.
If you feel a discussion about your child’s sexual orientation is on the horizon, there are several strategies to consider to help the conversation go well. These strategies will help your teen to feel safe and supported. One idea is to prepare. Understand that sexuality is not a choice and that you are supporting your child to be their best authentic self. Become familiar with LGBTQ culture. Research terms. Being knowledgeable allows you to ask more sensitive and thoughtful questions. Another idea is to reach out to a professional, like your child’s pediatrician or a counselor. They can help your family navigate this time. Many parental support groups also offer guidance.
If your child does come out to you, you may be searching for the right words to say. You don’t need to have a long speech prepared. Instead, offer a few words and an expression of caring. Choosing to tell you who they are is an act of great strength on their part and an expression of trust and love towards you. It may also be a bit of a test where they don’t know exactly how you will react. Putting these ideas together helps you to come up with those first right words. “Thank you for telling me about this important part of you. I love you.” A hug might also be perfect at that moment.
Process Your Feelings
Even the most loving and accepting families may find news about their adolescent’s sexual orientation or gender identity difficult at first. This is not the moment to shame or blame yourself for needing time. Just commit to growth. You may need some time to come to terms with your feelings. Ask your child for time and space to process your emotions if you feel you need it. But as you ask for time, reinforce that your love for them is not in question. Your child needs your support more than ever. You may be confused or uncertain of what to feel or which words to use. But let your child know you are not going anywhere and you are in this together. Tell them you will do the work it takes to learn how to be most supportive.
Reach Out for Help
To offer the kind of support your child deserves and strengthen your family connection, consider the resources below for more in-depth information. These organizations specialize in helping parents support and connect with their LGBTQ teens.
- PFLAG – PFLAG has over 400 chapters across the country that offer support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies. They state: “PFLAG believes that lives are transformed by unconditional love. To help people achieve this, we recognize we must exercise compassion for ourselves and others willing to take the journey toward love and acceptance.”
- Family Acceptance Project – The Family Acceptance Project is a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) children and youth.
- Gender Spectrum – Offers resources, training, and support for families, professionals, and youth advocates to create gender-sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and teens.
- The Trevor Project — Saving Young LGBTQ Lives -The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.
- LGBTQ Youth – HRC – Resources from the Human Rights Campaign to support LGBTQ youth.