When a teen comes out (or invites you in), most parents experience a range of reactions—from "How can I support my child?" to "How am I going to handle this?" There's no denying that people have different (and potentially complex) feelings toward a loved one coming out, and that's completely normal. Compared to their peers, LGBTQIA+ youth face a unique set of challenges that parents often feel unprepared to handle. However, it's important for parents of teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, or another identity across the gender & sexuality spectrum (LGBTQIA+) to recognize these challenges and support their child. Sometimes, it may be helpful to find additional, professional support from a mental healthcare provider who is an expert in LGBTQIA+-informed and sensitive counseling. In the day-to-day though, here's how to create a safe space for your teenager.
Show subtle support
Remember: subtle support can speak volumes. This type of support will look different in every family—maybe it's talking positively about an LGBTQIA+ person in your life, reading about gender identity, or using the proper gender pronouns for a character from a movie or TV show. No matter how small, these hints show your teen that you're making an effort to support and understand their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
Keep an open dialogue
Whether you're a first-time parent or raising multiple teens, you already know how difficult it can be to talk to your kids. If you're not sure how to start the conversation and build your teen's trust, start small. Ask about their day, get to know their friends, and learn what they like to do.
When your teen opens up, give them opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings without judgment. When they want to talk about their ambitions for the future or a situation that happened at school, make sure to listen with intention. If you have a sense that your teen wants to talk, start with a simple open-ended question, like "How did things go at school today?"
Find ways to express your love
For many LGBTQIA+ teens, coming out to family members is the scariest part of the process. No matter how difficult learning about your teen's sexual orientation or gender identity might feel, it was probably incredibly difficult for them to tell you. Your acceptance plays an important role in your teen's well-being—and the research backs this up. According to a 2017 study, LGBTQIA+ adolescents who feel supported by their family members grow up to be healthier adults.
For some parents, responding with love and support will be the natural response. For others, long-held beliefs might interfere with their ability to respond positively. While saying "I love you" is an obvious way to express your love and support, if you're at a loss for words, a hug can make all the difference.
Educate yourself on LGBTQIA+ youth
What is the difference between sexual orietntation and gender identity? What challenges do LGBTQIA+ youth face? Doing your own research is a great way to kickstart important (and sometimes challenging) conversations with your teen. Of course, you're bound to make a few mistakes along the way—and that's completely fine. Acknowledge your mistake, apologize, and do better next time.
Remember: providing support can feel challenging at times. It's normal to feel stressed, confused, or surprised, but rejection isn't the answer. If you're feeling overwhelmed, reach out for support. Team up with your teen's pediatrician, an LGBTQIA+ counselor, close family members, and even community organizations if you need extra support.
Are You Struggling to Support Your Teen? Contact Us
If you're looking for extra support, online therapy can help you carve the best path forward. Talk therapy can provide a safe space for difficult conversations, giving your teen the support they need to explore their sexuality, gender identity, and mental health concerns.
At Charlie Health, we offer virtual intensive outpatient programs (vIOP) for adolescents, teenagers, and their families. Our IOP combines individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy to build an individualized treatment plan based on your teen's unique mental health needs. No matter what challenges you're facing, we're here to help with compassionate mental health care so you can give your teen the support they deserve.