If you’re currently the parent of a teenager or young adult, there’s a good chance that someone in their circle openly identifies as LGBTQIA+ (this acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic/Agender, and any other sexual orientation or gender identity along the spectrum).
Reports show that those who are part of Generation Z (so anyone who was born between the years 1997 and 2012) are more likely than any generation to date to consider themselves as something other than heterosexual or cisgender. Sixteen percent of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQIA+, compared with 9.1 percent of Millennials and 3.8 percent of Generation X.
Kids and young adults are also disclosing their identity at younger ages than previous generations. A report from 2013 showed that the median age for coming out to others was 20 years old, with gay men coming out a bit sooner than those who identify as lesbian or bisexual. And now, nearly 10 years later, the average coming out age could be even younger.
If you’re reading this article, you might be anticipating a situation in which your child comes to you to discuss their sexual orientation or gender identity. Inviting in, or coming out, is a big deal because it means that your teen has gained a sense of clarity and is choosing to share that information with you. Below you’ll find some guidance on listening and responding to your child’s declaration of their authentic self.
Speaking with you, the person who has known them since the day they were born, about something as personal as gender identity and sexual orientation might be difficult for your teen. It requires real courage, conviction, and vulnerability, and by inviting you in they’re saying that they trust you with this important piece of who they are.
There will undoubtedly be all sorts of thoughts racing through your mind, but the best thing you can do is let them speak, then show your appreciation by saying, “Thank you for trusting me enough to open up.” A hug doesn’t hurt either!
You might have had your suspicions or maybe you’re completely shocked; either way, this isn't the time to share your own take on the news. Allow your child to have the floor until they’ve said their piece, and then ask if they’d like to hear your reaction.
When you do respond, it’s best to avoid phrases like “I’m not surprised” or “I already knew that.” Those types of comments can diminish the internal struggle your child may have experienced up to this point, or create new worries that other people already know their “secret.”
If you really feel the need to comment here, consider saying something along the lines of “You’re my child and I’ve always known that you are special. I can’t wait to keep growing and learning together.”
You might need time to process this announcement, and that's completely understandable. Your child has likely been thinking about this for months, or even years, so it’s ok to take some time to wrap your mind around this change.
The important thing, however, is to show validation right from the beginning. By saying “I’m so glad you told me” or “I’m proud of you for knowing who you are,” you’re acknowledging their truth while still allowing yourself time to think. Showing your teen that you accept and respect their choices will help build their self-confidence and integrity.
You might be tempted to dismiss your child's announcement by claiming that they’re confused or not old enough to make this sort of decision, but that’s only going to push your child away—or worse. LGBTQIA+ youth who felt supported by their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt little to moderate support, according to a study from the Trevor Project. Even if you have concerns or doubts, the best thing to do in the moment is to accept them and their decision.
You probably understand the”L” and “G” but maybe you’re not as familiar with the full LGBTQIA+ spectrum–and that’s ok! The language around sexual orientation and gender identity continues to evolve, so there’s always room for further education. Charlie Health has broken down the definition for each identity here [link to How to Support a Friend Who’s Coming Out - 6.1.22 CH] so that friends and family can better support their loved ones.
Let’s say your child had their realization around age 13 but they’re only inviting you in now that they’re 17 and getting ready to go off to college. You might feel insulted or upset, but remember that this isn’t about you. Coming out is an ongoing process, and it’s each person’s prerogative to tell who they want, when they want. Keep those feelings to yourself and try to process them by journaling, talking to a friend (as long as they’re also invited in), or connecting with a therapist.
Ask your child about their plans for inviting others in. Are they ready to share their orientation or identity with family and friends, or would they prefer to keep it personal for now? If they’re ready to share, is there anything you can do to help? Some teens prefer to tell others on their own, while others will appreciate you giving the grandparents a heads up.
You might also want to contact their school to see if there are any specific policies to promote LGBTQIA+ inclusion. Depending on your child’s preferences, topics like pronouns, bathrooms, bullying, and inclusion practices are important to discuss with the administration.
Adolescence and young adulthood are full of challenges, and identifying as LGBTQIA+ can make some aspects of life even more difficult. This isn’t always the case, but as a parent it’s your job to be mindful of any changes in behavior that might signify a problem.
Results from a 2022 National Survey on LGBTQIA+ Youth Mental Health found that 45 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth thought about attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. Anxiety and depression are also common, with 73 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth experiencing symptoms of anxiety and 58 percent experiencing symptoms of depression.
What’s more, research suggests that gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are at a greater risk for dating violence compared to students who identify as heterosexual [link to LGBTQIA+ Unhealthy Relationships - CH 5.25.22]. Rates of intimate partner violence might be higher among transgender individuals compared to non-transgender youth.
If you suspect that your child is struggling with a mental health condition or dangerous relationship, consider connecting them with the following resources.
Additional resources for parents of LGBTQIA+ teens:
Resources to share with your teens:
Charlie Health is committed to serving LGBTQIA+ youth in a safe, compassionate, and empowering environment. Our virtual mental healthcare programs are designed to fit each client’s unique needs, plus help their families learn how to best support them as they navigate their journey toward healing and sustainable recovery from a wide variety of mental health disorders.
If you think your teen or family might benefit from learning more, connect with Charlie Health today.