Many parents do not realize what an important role their comments, attitudes, and actions play in reducing risks for their LGBTQ child.
The good news: You can steer your child in a positive direction. What you choose to do (or not do) with and for your child can make a big difference for them right now and also in their future.
1. Will you always love me?
This is the key question for LGBTQ youth, whether they ask it directly or not. This question is far more important that the words “I’m gay” or “I’m trans.” It is essential you express affection when your child comes out to you and that you continue to do so. Show your child that they are loved, even if you are struggling to accept what they say. Warmth, respect, and displays of physical and emotional affection are more important now than ever. Don’t ever hesitate to say “I love you.”
2. Keep Talking – and Listening
Your child may think that your silence on this topic means that you are angry with them. Even more, silence can make a topic seem taboo. Parents who talk with and listen to their teen in a way that invites an open discussion about sexual orientation can help their teen feel loved and supported. Ask questions and keep talking. Even if it feels uncomfortable, keep up a flow of communication so your child feels comfortable continuing to talk to you. This includes talking with your child about their LGBTQ identity and experiences even when you are uncomfortable. Listening is as important as what you say. Ask how you can help and what your child needs.
(Talking about sex can be hard. It’s important to be approachable and open to questions. For helpful guidance, see Are You An Askable Parent)
3. Stand Up For Your Child
You may hear negative comments made about your child or LGBTQ individuals in general.
- Speak up with a different point of view and be aware your child is probably listening. Your words are a powerful witness to your support.
- Make it known that you will not accept discrimination, teasing, or insults to your child.
- Defend your child and advocate for them, even in the midst of your own process of coming to acceptance about this.
- Insist that family members treat your child with respect.
4. Make Sure Your Child Feels Affirmed and Supported
A few of the actions that demonstrate your support and affirmation are1:
- Taking time to come to terms with your own feelings and reactions so you can respond calmly and use respectful language.
- Making an effort to know their friends and romantic partners.
- Listening in a way that invites open discussion about their sexual orientation.
- Continuing to include them in family activities.
- Helping your child find support organizations and going with them.
(These and more suggestions are included in the Centers for Disease Control publication Parents’ Influence on the Health of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens: What Parents and Families Should Know)
5. Help Your Child Envision and Believe They Can Be a Happy LGBTQ Adult
In families that are very accepting, almost all LGBTQ youth believe they will have good lives (92%) and most want to become a parent (69%).2 Your acceptance and optimism helps them envision a positive future and counteracts the hopelessness and sense of isolation that contribute to suicide and destructive behaviors. Encourage your child by helping them build on natural strengths, foster hope and optimism, avoid risky behaviors, and practice self-care both physically and emotionally.3
- For a helpful affirmation on the value of expressing love to your child see “15 Reasons to Tell Your Child ‘I Love You.’”
- The Centers for Disease Control publication offers an excellent online resource in Parents’ Influence on the Health of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens: What Parents and Families Should Know.
- A list of more “Behaviors That Help” is located in Dr. Ryan’s booklet, “Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children.” (http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/).
- “Parents’ Influence on the Health of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens: What Parents and Families Should Know” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children.” Ryan, C.
- Ginsburg, Kenneth R. & Jablow, Martha M (2005). Building Resilience in Children and Teens, 2nd Ed. American Academy of Pediatrics: Elk Grove Village, IL.
- Kann L, Olsen EO, McManus T, et al. Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015. MMWR Surveill Summ 2016;65(No. SS-9):1–202.
- Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Ryan, Caitlin; Russell, Stephen T.; Huebner, David; Diaz, Rafael; Sanchez, Jorge. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, Vol 23(4), Nov 2010, 205-213.
- Ryan, C. Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. San Francisco, CA: Family Acceptance Project, Marian Wright Edelman Institute, San Francisco State University, 2009.