Although we’re all happy to be celebrating Pride Month 2022, we also know that celebrating the LGBTQ+ community isn’t solely reserved for one month a year — especially when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ children and teens’ mental well-being. Because feeling marginalized is especially difficult for children and teens in general, let alone when they’re growing up sans adequate support.
As it stands now, transgender youth are four times more likely to experience depression than their cis-gendered peers, per the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. LGBTQ+ teens also demonstrate significantly higher rates of severe depression than their heterosexual peers: In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 60 percent of LGBQ teens said they felt “so sad or hopeless they stopped doing some of their usual activities.”
What’s more, nearly five times the number of LGBTQ+ youth are likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
While this is depressing — as it, quite frankly, should be — this is not to say that there is no hope. According to the Committee on Adolescence, “Strong family bonds, safe schools and support from caring adults can all protect LGBTQ youth from depression and [suicidal ideation].”
If you’re unsure where to begin when it comes to supporting LGBTQ+ kids’ and teens’ mental health, you can start here: We queried the experts. Read on and see if there are a few new ways to be the strongest and most compassionate support system you can be.
Reiterate that you love them unconditionally.
“Start with reassuring your child that you love them and always will. The biggest fear of any LGBTQ+ child is that they will be rejected by the people they love,” Adam D. Blum, MFT, Founder and Director of the Gay Therapy Center. “The most important thing is to show your child through your actions and your language that you love them and aren’t going to abandon them in their self-discovery journey,” Angélique “Angel” Gravely, M.Ed., an LGBTQ+ Educator, advocate and school counselor, concurs. “Children need to know that no matter how they identify, no matter whether their identity stays the same or changes over time, no matter what anyone else says or does to them, you will always have their backs and be a safe space for them.”
“Children need to know that no matter how they identify, no matter whether their identity stays the same or changes over time, no matter what anyone else says or does to them, you will always have their backs and be a safe space for them.”
Listen to them and ask how they identify: No two LGBTQ+ youth are the same.
“The first part is to just have a conversation with your child,” says Lisa Ibekwe, LCSW, Child & Adolescent Therapist and CEO and Founder of The Comfy Place. “No two LGBTQ youth are the same, similar to how no two people are the same. Listening is key because it allows you to connect with your child on a deeper level; and this includes whether or not you agree with the LGBTQ lifestyle.”
Gravely adds that it’s important to recognize the diversity of experiences within the LGBTQ+ community: “It’s important to understand that the LGBTQ+ community is not a monolith. Different subsets of the community have different experiences and different needs, so what your child needs to feel supported could look very different from what a child with a different LGBTQ+ identity needs,” Gravely adds. “That’s why I encourage parents to not only look at resources about LGBTQ+ youth overall but also to look at resources about specific LGBTQ+ sub-communities to get a better sense of their child’s experiences and needs.”
Seek out support and education on the LGBTQ+ community.
“[Parents should] seek out support for themselves. It is extremely hard for parents to adjust to something they have never experienced,” says Ibekwe. “We encourage all of our parents to get support for themselves as they try to support their children on their journey. It’s okay to say I need help and use the resources available. Accept and acknowledge what you don’t know and seek out support with the facts. Seek out support groups,. to help with having a space to process their thoughts, feelings [and] emotions around their child coming out.”
Continually practice self-reflection throughout the process.
“Make sure you get your own support and education. It is not fair to ask your child to educate you,” says Blum. “The best way to support your child is with your own personal discovery work. We all need to unlearn the negative messages our culture has taught us about people who are different from us. As you begin to self-compassionately unpack your own prejudice you will naturally become authentically supportive of your child. Be patient with yourself. You are growing and learning something new.”
The work you do on yourself is only going to help you be a better ally and support system for the youth in your life.
“Your support and protection of your child starts with your self-reflection,” Blum continues. “Can you reflect on whether you treat your LGBTQ+ child with the same loving attention as your other children? Will you put the same energy into their wedding plans? If they are attracted to people of the same sex will you take delight in that? “
Make sure they feel supported outside the home.
“Parents should check in with their child about how supported they feel in their community. See if they are feeling safe and supported at school, in extracurricular activities, with other family members, in your religious community. If not, you can start having conversations about how you all can manage that together and whether or not that involves your child wanting to share their identity with more people, wanting you to step in to advocate for them more, or other options,” says Gravely. “In school, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to be verbally harassed, physically assaulted, excluded, and to overall feel unsafe compared to their cis straight peers which can negatively impact everything from their educational aspirations to their mental and emotional well-being,” she reiterates, hence the importance of continually checking in regarding that part of their lives.
“One of the most powerful things you can do is to advocate for your child,” Blum agrees. “Do not expect your child to teach…the value of accepting LGBTQ people. Your child is already busy doing the hard work of self-acceptance.”
“One of the most powerful things you can do is to advocate for your child.”
Provide LGBTQ+ representation in the home.
“Seek out shows, movies, or documentaries that have LGBTQ+ representation that you can watch together as a family,” Gravely suggests. “Provide youth with access to books by LGBTQ+ authors and about LGBTQ+ people and commit to reading some on your own time as well. Share these resources with cis straight people in your community so they can understand the LGBTQ+ youth in their midst better. Support youth in getting connected to the broader LGBTQ+ community whether through a GSA, a community group, or through online groups created to allow LGBTQ+ youth to safely connect.”
“Families can watch LGBTQ friendly movies, have a dance party, play trivia about LGBTQ history, make a rainbow meal and/or drink, and more,” adds Ibekwe. “There is no right or wrong to celebrate being you.”
Show support outside the home, as well.
“Taking them to events or engaging them in [LGBTQ+] activities would be nice so kids can interact with others, learn, and even build community,” Ibekwe continues. “But even for the more reserved family, something as simple as putting up a pride flag, sticker, etc. in the home could be helpful and seen as supportive, because it allows the child to see that they are welcome in their space and in the family as who they are.“
Form a group of allies to help support your child.
“Seek out other adults who can support [your child] and help them connect to resources that affirm them, such as a teacher or school counselor,” Gravely advises. “School counselors are supposed to be supportive of students of all genders and sexual orientations as per our national association guidelines, so good school counselors can be a great resource to students. Try to connect with other LGBTQ+ students at school or through safe, virtual spaces created for LGBTQ+ youth such as TrevorSpace, Q Chat Space, The LGBT National Help Center Youth Chatrooms, or Gender Spectrum.”
Remember: This isn’t about you, nor is it a reflection of you as a parent, guardian or mentor.
“When a child shares part of their identity that’s unexpected or that doesn’t align with the picture of them you had in your head, it can be tempting to feel like that reflects negatively on who you are as parents, as if you did something wrong that made your child choose this identity,” Gravely concludes. “But it’s much more accurate to think of your child’s gender and sexuality as a part of their individual journey that is distinct from you. You don’t have to understand their journey or agree with everything about their journey to commit to being there beside them throughout their journey. Just being able to affirm consistently that you love your child no matter what is a solid first step in ensuring that your child feels safe in your home.”
A version of this story was published June 2021.
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