Tips and Resources for Parents of LGBTQ+ Youth

By: Mona Hosseiny-Tovar

Every parent wants their child to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilled life, but they will not be able to do that if they have to hide who they are or they do not receive love and acceptance from their parents. Although there has been significant cultural progress in the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, they must still overcome many obstacles and prejudices. While this is often hard on adults, it is even more difficult for children who are also dealing with puberty, school, social pressures and dynamics, and other challenging aspects of youth. Parental acceptance and love is crucial during this time for any youth, yet parents are often unprepared for what to do or say when their child identifies as being LGBTQ+. Ultimately, good parenting comes down to patience and the ability to listen, learn, and be active in the child’s life.

Let Them Know They Are Loved and Supported

Youth crave the love, approval, and support of their parents. Because of the challenges historically faced by LGBTQ individuals, when sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTQ children could often fear that parental love and acceptance may turn into disapproval or even rejection. Learning of a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity may surprise some parents and can take some getting used to. While these are acceptable and even normal reactions considering the cultural up-bringing of some parents, it’s important for parents to express their continuing and unconditional love for their child. It’s also important to express how the love for their child has not changed in any way.  A negative reaction from parents can harm young people in ways that significantly impact their present and future. Rejection or dismissal from parents can put LGBTQ+ youth at greater risk of developing serious problems such as drug use, depression, and suicidal ideations. 

From the initial discussion onward, parents can show their acceptance through open conversation and gestures.  A heartfelt hug can be a nonverbal sign of continued affection and support. A hug with a simple “I love you” or “I’ll always love and support you” is often enough to reassure kids that their parents love them unconditionally.  A consistent wellness check-in with the child can also be enough to reassure kids.   A parent of a LGBTQ child can also encourage the child to go regularly speak with a qualified counselor or a LGBTQ mentor if the parent needs any assistance with helping the child process their feelings and thoughts.

Encourage Dialogue

Often, it’s parents and not their children who start important discussions on sexuality and other uncomfortable topics. Kids may feel embarrassed to approach their parents about things that they are feeling or what’s happening to them. Sometimes kids may even approach a close family member, like an aunt or uncle, instead of their parents to ask or inquire about heavy and uncomfortable topics.  It is important to encourage your child regularly to speak openly with you at all times.  Healthy conversation is crucial to promote better understanding and trust and to help kids overcome difficulties. Parents can encourage continued dialogue by asking questions about school, activities, friendships, and any problems that they may have.  During the conversation, it’s important to avoid judgment, harsh criticism, and overall negativity.

How to Get Them Talking

Although parents may be interested in talking, it may take some encouragement to get their kids to open up. To get kids talking, parents can ask them questions that explore how they feel regarding certain topics. While some parents may prefer a direct approach, others may find it easier to use movies, the news, or other media to start a conversation. If a news report, for example, is discussing transgender teens, a parent may ask their child what they think about the issue or how it makes them feel. These opportunities allow parents to express their acceptance, concerns, or other feelings while also allowing their children to do the same.

Learn the Facts

It isn’t uncommon for people to confuse stereotypes and myths for truth when it comes to groups of people who differ from them and to whom they have had limited exposure. Often, this information is negative and meant to frighten and divide us.  As a parent, it’s important to seek the facts about LGBTQ+ individuals. Dispelling negative information and fear can make it easier for parents to adjust and accept that there’s no cause for fear or worry.

Myth: It’s a Choice

A person’s sexual orientation is not a conscious choice.  It is, however, a conscious choice to choose the person with whom you decide to be romantic with or in an intimate relationship with.  The difference here is that a person cannot choose who they are naturally and sexually attracted to, whether they choose to be in a romantic relationship with that person or not.  Scientists believe that several factors contribute to a person’s sexual orientation, including biology. A person cannot choose who they are sexually attracted to any more than they can choose their height or skin color.

Myth: It Will Pass or It’s a Phase

Parents should not dismiss their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity as being a fad or a phase. This invalidates their feelings when they are embracing and being open about who they are. This type of dismissal also can end their desire to share anything about themselves and what’s happening in their lives. It is normal for a child to evolve but calling their feelings about their sexual orientation a phase can actually hurt and impede their natural evolution.

Myth: Someone Caused It

Not being heterosexual or cisgender is not caused by parenting, having a transgender relative, or having neighbors who are gay. LGBTQ+ kids do not learn it, and there is no “blame” to be placed. Plenty of straight parents have LGBTO+ kids and vice versa to disprove this.

Myth: It Can Be “Cured”

LGBTQ+ youth are not infected by a disease, and they do not need fixing. Claims that medications and conversion therapies can change a person’s sexual orientation are false, and mental health organizations are against their use.

School Involvement

Time spent at school is a major part of one’s youth. Unfortunately, the acceptance given at home may not be what they experience as a student. From changing laws in certain states to negative interactions with other students or even teachers, school can pose many difficulties for young people. For that reason, parents must be aware and active in their children’s school. Parents should:

  • Learn about laws and school policies that affect LGBTQ+ students in their state. These may restrict discussion of LGBTQ-related topics or hinder their rights. Students affected by these laws can feel frustrated, isolated, singled out, and threatened.
  • If possible, stress the need for inclusive sex education to help reduce risk and encourage positive, healthy behavior.
  • Stay in contact with teachers. Teachers are aware of things that a parent might not be aware of. By maintaining frequent contact, parents can hear about concerning behavior or harassment that happens on campus.
  • Check that the school provides a safe space where LGBTQ+ students can receive support from the school administration/staff. If that’s not currently available, talk with teachers or administration about establishing such a space.
  • Encourage the school to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). These are student organizations that include students of all sexual or gender orientations. The purpose of a GSA can be social, but they may also be geared toward support or activism.

Look Out for Signs of Bullying

LGBTQ+ youth are frequently victims of bullying in school and online. Parents must know this risk and recognize the signs that their kid has become a victim. Kids who are victims of bullying may become withdrawn, nervous, or depressed or otherwise behave differently than they would under normal circumstances. This includes using drugs or alcohol or engaging in frequent sex. This could also include expressions of suicidal thoughts, whether in writing or verbally expressed by the child.  Bullied kids may stop going to school or a specific class, and their grades may decline.  Recognizing these signs early on is key and checking in with your kiddo regularly could help to recognize these signs early.

Take a Team Approach

When parenting a kid who identifies as LGBTQ+, there are unique challenges that parents may be unprepared for. While it is important that they understand the struggles that their kids are going through, fortunately, they don’t have to have all of the answers. Instead of struggling alone, parents should turn to trusted family members, particularly those who may also identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, and mentors. They can also speak with their child’s pediatrician or a counselor from school. Joining an organization of other parents with LGBTQ+ kids can also be helpful. There could also be churches that are LGBTO+ friendly within your community that provide support groups and mentors within.

Forming Healthy Relationships

Dating and forming relationships are normal parts of being a teen. This is no different for LGBTQ+ teens, and parents should not discourage their kids from dating within parameters set by parents and dating in healthy and respectful ways. Parents should keep the lines of communication open and verify that they are dating safely and with individuals of the same age. At no point should they treat their kids as if they are abnormal or like their relationships are something to be ashamed of. Encouraging open and regular communication with your teens about their dating life can help aid the sense of normalcy and acceptance of who they are dating.

Social Media Awareness

Social media is a regular part of most teens’ lives. It’s where they can be open about their gender and sexual orientation and meet others experiencing the same issues and fears associated with being a LGBTQ+ teen. Although this can be beneficial and positive, it also has its negative side. Unfortunately, there are also people who post inappropriate images, videos, and other content online. Some adults may even use social media to meet kids by being understanding or pretending to be younger than they actually are. For these reasons, it is important for parents to discuss social media concerns with their teens and monitor their accounts to ensure that they are being as safe as they should be. Follow up discussions and regular check-ins with teens are also necessary to ensure that the kiddos are staying safe while interacting with others online. Parents should also be ready to intervene and take control of situations if they escalate or problems arise with their children’s use of online platforms.