Parent Actions Can Harm. Handle with care.
Many parents do not realize what an important role their comments, attitudes, and actions play in how things turn out for their LGBTQ child.1 Parent behaviors such as shaming or shunning are negative in any context. However, many parents don’t realize that even protective efforts can be felt as rejection or abuse by their LGBTQ child. Subtle actions, attitudes, words, or choices that communicate rejection to LGBTQ youth have been shown to be linked to both health and mental health problems:1
Abusive behaviors include a wide range of actions that can inflict emotional harm:
- Aggression is typified by behaviors such as belittling, dominating and insulting communication, criticism, arguing, controlling, ganging up on a family member, and stress.
- Lack of affection is the absence of verbal affirmations of love, physical affection, encouragement, and spending time together.
- Neglect includes ignoring or not paying attention to one another and not feeling comfortable around some family members.
- Violence encompasses physical harm and sexual abuse.2
First and foremost, such actions are harmful. When they are aimed at the sexual orientation of your child, they can be even more damaging. No matter what your reactions are, do not take them out on your child. What you choose to do (or not do) with and for your child can make a big difference.
It’s Important to Avoid:
Hitting or physically hurting your child
“The parental use of physical force is always risky…Damage to the parent/child relationship can be done if basic trust in safety with the parent is lost.”3
Insults or name-calling
Insulting is classified under emotional abuse.
By definition, emotional abuse refers to any act by an adult that results in injuring a child’s emotional health. When you yell at your child or throw insults at them, you are chipping away bits from their self-esteem. Insults come in many forms. Some of them include:
- Name calling: “Are you stupid?”
- Shame: “You embarrass me…you are such a disappointment.”
- Comparisons: “I wish you were more like your sister.”
- Teasing in public: “Oh he sucks at studies, he’s bottom of his class.”
- Rejection: “Shut up and get out of my face.”
- Extreme or negative criticisms: “You are good for nothing. Why can’t you make me proud in even one thing?”4
Excluding your child from family activities
“Not this time…”
Ostracizing someone does not just reduce feelings of belonging, it can lower self-esteem, a sense of control, and a “sense of having a meaningful existence.”5 Ignoring, ostracizing, or marginalizing your child may inflict serious emotional pain and increase the risk of self-harming behaviors and despair.
Blaming your child when discrimination or bullying occur
“If you weren’t gay, they wouldn’t have…”
Even if you believe it to be true, do not point to your child’s sexual orientation as a reason that bad things happen to them, such as teasing, harassment, or loss of friendships.1
“The other side of listening is not blaming your child…If your child is being bullied, he is the victim, so trying to find a reason for why he’s ‘bringing it on himself’ really isn’t helpful.”6 Showing sympathy and taking your child’s side is an important show of support.
Rejecting Your Child’s Word That They are Gay
“It’s just a phase.”
Disbelief or denying your child’s sexual orientation is highly negative. Youth do not casually claim to be LGBTQ, as it carries many challenges and even stigma. You may need time to adjust to it, but don’t deny your child’s disclosure. They trusted and loved you enough to be honest.
Using Religion Against Them
“It’s a sin.”
It is deeply wounding to tell your child that he or she will be a disappointment to God or your religious community, particularly if your family is connected to a faith community. This will likely create self-hate or self-doubt within your child, but it will not create positive change. Please see Faith Based Organizations to locate groups from many faiths and denominations that provide supportive information.
- A valuable resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parents’ Influence on the Health of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Teens: What Parents and Families Should Know
- Read Dr. Caitlin Ryan’s very helpful booklet for parents, Supportive families, healthy children: Helping families with lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender children. This publication summarizes decades of research on families and LGBTQ children and provides excellent guidance for parents.
- Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in White and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Pediatrics,123, 346-352.
- Why Family Hurt Is So Painful. Hall, Elizabeth Dorrance. Mar. 27, 2017. Psychology Today
- Parenting and the Use of Physical Force. Pickhardt, C., Ph.D. (2014) Psychology Today
- Insulting Children – The Worst Parenting Technique. www.beingtheparent.com
- Williams, K. D., Nida, S. A. (2011). Ostracism: Consequences and coping. Current Directions in Psychological Science, (20), 71 - 75.
- Is Your Child Being Bullied? 9 Steps You Can Take as a Parent. Lehman, Janet MSW.