It takes guts for a kid to tell their parents, “I’m gay” (or lesbian, bisexual, or transgender). They’ve probably been coming to understand and accept their identity for some time.
And now they’re ready to share who they are with the most important people in their lives – their parents. As a parent, you want what’s best for them: but you might have more questions than answers about being LGBTQ+ and what it means for your kids’ future.
It’s normal to have worries and concerns about your child when they come out. You might have to adjust the expectations and dreams you have for your child. But ultimately, you want them to be happy, loved, and fulfilled. And the good news is, as a parent, there’s a lot you can do that will make a massive difference to your kid’s happiness.
Mental health risks for LGBTQ+ teens
Most young people begin to identify as LGBTQ+ when they’re teenagers – although they may feel they always knew something was “different” about them. Coming out as a teenager can be a stressful, isolating, and scary experience.
Most kids worry about what people – including their family, friends, teachers, and peers – will think about them coming out. They might be scared of being rejected, discriminated against, or bullied. They might also have worries about their future, like: will they be able to fall in love, get married, and have children?
These worries, combined with isolation and stigma, mean LGBTQ+ people are 3 times more likely to develop a mental health condition than straight people. In fact, LGBTQ+ teenagers are at greater risk of:
- Substance abuse
- Sexual violence
If your teenager has just come out, these statistics probably seem scary. But the good news is, as a parent, there’s a lot you can do to protect your kid from these risks. In fact, when their families are very accepting, 92% of LGBTQ+ teenagers believe they will have good lives. In contrast, LGBTQ+ youth who are rejected by their families are 8 times more likely to commit suicide. So don’t panic: there’s plenty you can do to help your kid live a happy, loving life.
10 things parents should do for their LGBTQ+ kids
1. Tell them you love and accept them
The first thing most queer kids worry about when they come out is: will my family still love me? So when your child comes out to you, the most important thing to do is show (and tell) them that you love them. Even if you don’t fully understand how they’re feeling or have worries for them, your first priority should be reminding them that they are loved, accepted, and safe.
2. Listen and keep talking
One way to show your child that you accept and support them is to keep an open dialogue about their gender and/or sexual identity. Asking respectful questions, and listening openly to their answers, is a great way to make them feel supported. Don’t worry if you don’t always have the answers. It’s more important that you listen to them and validate what they’re feeling and experiencing. If you aren’t sure how you can help, just ask them!
3. Stand up against bullying
Bullying is still one of the biggest risks to LGBQT+ kids’ mental health. So as their parent, make sure to stand up for them if bullying does occur. Keep an eye out for signs that they might be being bullied, and keep the conversation open. Make it clear that bullying is unacceptable, and advocate for your child at school and in the community.
4. Celebrate diversity and LGBTQ+ role models
One great way to show that you support your child is to celebrate diversity in the world around you. Show your approval for LGBTQ+ role models and public figures. Watch films, read books, and share stories from LGBTQ+ culture, and celebrate the strength of people who stand up against stigma and discrimination towards the queer community.
5. Get to know their partners
When your child starts dating, make sure you meet their partners. Take an interest in their dating life in a respectful way – just like you would if they were straight. Invite their partners round for dinner and get to know them. This is a great way to show your child you accept them. It will also help you have open conversations about healthy relationships and consent when the time comes.
6. Keep an eye out for signs of mental health concerns
The best way to address mental health issues like anxiety and depression is to prevent them before they become serious. Watch for signs like withdrawing from friends and family, insecurities, and low self-esteem that might suggest your child is struggling with their mental health. Find a good moment to ask them about how they’re feeling and help them get help if they need it.
7. Connect them with support and resources
There are heaps of great resources and support out there for LGBTQ+ youth. Encourage your child to connect with local youth groups where they’ll meet other teenagers going through the same experience. The Trevor Project is a great website that provides information, support, and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth who are struggling with their mental health.
8. Support your kid’s self-expression
As kids begin to understand their own sexual and gender identity, they’ll experiment with different ways of expressing themselves. This can start when kids are young – long before they understand they identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender. As a parent, it’s important to support your kids as they explore who they are. Encourage their behavior and interests, and let them know that it’s healthy to experiment with self-expression.
9. Create safe spaces
Queer kids might feel like there are lots of “unsafe” spaces in their lives as they come out. School, sports teams, and friendship groups can be stressful environments when you’re figuring out your identity and worrying if you’ll be accepted. Parents should create safe spaces for their kids to be themselves without judgment. Your behavior and words can help make the home feel like a safe space where kids can relax, speak openly, and express themselves.
10. Educate yourself
As the parent of an LGBTQ+ teenager, you may have misconceptions, prejudices, or concerns about what life will look like for your kid now they’ve come out. It’s normal for parents to need some time to accept their child’s gender identity or sexual orientation fully. As you process the changes, take the time to educate yourself so you can support your child fully. The CDC, Strong Family Alliance, and Healthy Children all have informative, non-judgemental resources for parents of LGBTQ+ youth.
Remember, the most important thing you can do is show your child that you still love them, just like you did before they came out. That’s the single most important thing a parent can do to protect their child’s mental health, and help them live the best life possible.