Tips and Resources for Parents of LGBTQ+ Youth

Every parent wants their child to live a healthy and fulfilled life, but they will not be able to do that if they have to hide who they are. Although there has been significant 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 kids who are also dealing with puberty, school, and other aspects of youth. Parental acceptance is crucial during this time, 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

Youth crave the love and approval of their parents. When sharing their sexual orientation or gender identity, they 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, it’s important for parents to express their continuing and unconditional love for their child. A negative reaction from parents can harm young people in ways that 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 or depression.

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.

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. 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.

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. 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. Scientists believe that several factors contribute to a person’s sexual orientation, including biology. A person cannot choose it any more than they can choose their height.

Myth: It Will Pass

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.

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.

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. Bullied kids may stop going to school or a specific class, and their grades may decline.

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. 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.

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. Instead, they should keep the lines of communication open and verify that they are dating safely 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.

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 an 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.

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