Much recent research shows that for young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning having, just one trusted adult in their life can have a profound effect on their emotional and physical wellbeing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, compared to heterosexual youth, LGBTQ teens are more likely to experience bullying, physical violence, or rejection. As a result, they are at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors and report higher rates of sexual risk behavior and substance abuse.
However, research suggests that LGBTQ teens experience better health outcomes when their parents support their sexual orientation in positive and affirming ways. LGBTQ youth who are in a trusting and close relationship with their parents or caregivers, where they are supported “are less likely to experience depression, attempt suicide, use drugs and alcohol or become infected with sexually transmitted diseases,” according to the CDC.
As an example, survey results released this month by The Trevor Project, show that supportive parents and caregivers can significantly lower the risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth. Data from the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which compiled responses from nearly 34,000 LGBTQ people between the ages of 13 and 24, revealed that family support and parental acceptance can lower the risk of suicide for LGBTQ youth by 36% to 40%.
Building a Foundation of Trust
Parents can take the lead in building a strong foundation of trust and connection through ongoing open communication that is attuned to their needs. What you say, your tone and your delivery will signal your support and create conditions in which your child is more likely to confide and connect.
So how can you get the conversation started if you suspect your child may be considering their sexual orientation or gender identity?
The global non-profit, Advocates for Youth recommends the following first steps for parents:
- Become informed. Educating yourself will help you be ready to provide support and input whenever your child desires it.
- Consider your values and beliefs around sexuality and examine your own biases. If you are aware of your feelings, you can better express them in loving and positive ways.
- Normalize the topic. Don’t wait for THE TALK. Instead, look for opportunities to have short, casual conversations. Chatting about something you see on TV or when a celebrity comes out, can show your child your views and that you are comfortable with the topic.
- Let your child know that you will love and support them, no matter what. One of the most common fears that LGBTQ youth express is the concern that their parents won’t love them anymore because they are “different.” Sharing the message that you will love them forever is critical. “If your child turns to you to share personal information, you are doing something right! You’re sending out consistent verbal and non-verbal cues that say, ‘Yes, I’ll listen. Please talk to me!’”, Advocates for Youth advises.
- Make sure they know that home is a safe place, where they won’t be bullied, teased, rejected or humiliated. Show them that you respect their privacy and that you will always protect their confidentiality.
- Show your love and support, even if you are struggling to accept what they say. Express affection when your child is coming out to you and continue to do so.
- Listen more than you speak. But don’t stay silent. Your child may think that your silence on this topic means that you are angry with them or that the topic is taboo. Ask thoughtful questions and keep talking, even if it feels uncomfortable. Show them that you are interested in learning from them.
- Show your child that you appreciate them coming to you to discuss this issue. Acknowledge that you know it can’t be easy for them. Encourage them to continue coming to you.
- Let them know if you need time to process, but make sure to communicate that you want to continue the conversation later.