This week we are writing this guide for parents of LGBT+ young people to provide you with useful information should you be seeking support for yourself, your family or solely your young person. Supporting LGBT+ identities is as important as supporting every milestone in your young person’s life, from taking that first step, to attending school for the first time. Exploring gender and sexuality is a part of life, whether your child is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, cis gender or straight, there is a lot to figure out in this developmental milestone in life.
Talking about relationships, gender identity and sexuality can feel daunting as a parent who may not have had open discussions about it in our own homes growing up. However, we know that young people have questions about these things, and what we don’t educate them about ourselves, they may seek from other sources which we may not agree with or find developmentally appropriate for them. Being supportive and open can be the best policy and letting things unfold at their pace can reassure them that you’re not going to rush them.
Unfortunately, LGBT+ people report:
- Having had difficult childhoods
- often not seeing themselves represented in the mainstream stories
- feeling different from their peers
- or just reporting that they didn’t fit in.
Knowing this can help us to do better for our children. Now that we know better, we can do better. Keeping a positive attitude, keeping your child’s needs at the forefront, and accepting them for whoever they are and at their own pace can help to create a positive experience for your child however they identify.
It may be that your child feels comfortable coming out to you about their identity. If they do, remember this shows that they trust and value your opinion. Although it may be daunting at first, knowing the identity of your child is a privilege and it provides you with the opportunity to be openly supportive with them.
Some ways you can support your young person:
- Show support– let your young person know that you love them just the same no matter how they identify, they are still your child, and this doesn’t change your love for them.
- Listen– listen to their opinions and feelings without judgement. Your child may be going through a lot of emotions, hormonal changes, and peer alienation. If they know they can rely on you to listen, they will be more likely to seek you out for support when they most need it.
- Know that your feelings are valid– a child coming out to you may bring up strong emotions in you as well. You may feel anger, worry, shock or sadness and these are all normal reactions and that with time you will get past these initial responses to a place of acceptance.
- Seek support for yourself and your young person (when they are ready and with permission)-let your young person know that you are going to do some research to find support for yourself so that you can best support them and that when they are ready, that they may wish to seek support from others as well and that you may help them with that. It is best to give them control of the timing of this, coming out to you may not mean that they are ready to come out to others, and that decision is best respected. (Please see the list of supportive organisations at the bottom of this blog)
- Recognise that it’s ok to make mistakes, we’re all human, and showing that you are trying is good enough. You may feel uncomfortable using different pronouns for example, but if you just quickly correct yourself, not making a big deal of it, you can normalise how it feels to learn a new thing.
So, what about their mental health? Is being LGBT+ going to affect their mental health? It doesn’t have to, but it’s important to be proactive about the mental health of our children regardless of their identity.
Stonewall UK found that in their 2015 report, ‘Shut-Out’ young LGBT+ people who struggled with their LGBT identity before or after coming out said this was a key driver of their mental health challenges or low self-esteem. These mental health struggles largely led to the participants in the study stopping education and subsequently struggling to enter the workforce. They stated that, “Those who had not come out to their family or friends at the time of interview felt anxious about how people would react, and some feared rejection.” And when participants had come out to their family, they often did feel rejected by wider family members stating that, “These experiences often profoundly impacted their mental health and self-esteem, which in turn affected their ability to engage with school and their subsequent career opportunities.” (stonewall.org.uk)
One of the most important things you can do for your child who is identifying as LGBT+ is to make discussions of their mental health a priority.
- Find a way to check in with them around their mental health regularly.
- You may quote a fact that you read to begin a discussion. “Did you know that…“92% of LGBT youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBT. The top sources are school, the internet and their peers.” hrc.org/youth (Sadly the statistics around homophobic and transphobic bullying are shocking but being a well-informed parent means that you can support them should it happen to them.)
- Ask them about their experiences with peers, school or their workplace, and be aware of homophobic bullying and support them to address it.
- Let them know they are not alone. They don’t need to figure it all out on their own. Tell them you are a team and let them know that you will be there if and when they need you.
- Do not normalise the behaviour of family members who may be making comments about the young person’s LGBT+ identity. Let your child know how upsetting this is to you and that you will be on their side. Sadly, some family members may reject your child, but you can let them know that you don’t agree with this behaviour.
Lastly, it’s so important to be well informed and well supported yourself, so that you can be the best support for your young person.
You may want to:
- Seek out LGBT+ youth or family organisations who hold regular meet-ups to attend.
- Find out as much as you can about the identity that your child is, educate yourself so that you understand the words, pronouns, and others who identify as that identity.
- Look for role models in the LGBT+ community and find out how they coped.
- Find the numbers of the LGBT+ support hotlines. Give your young person a list of numbers (24 hour hotlines) that they can call for support if they’re away from you and you can’t support them.
- When they are ready, speak to the school about LGBT+ support within school. Find out how the school are going to support your child.
- Ensure that you have someone that you trust to speak to in difficult times, preferably someone who has an understanding of LGBT+ issues.
- Be prepared to seek support from the GP when you need it, should their mental health be suffering, or
- alternatively seek therapeutic support from private therapists who do have experience of working with LGBT+ clients.
All of us at the Youth Fairy are LGBT+ inclusive which means that work with LGBT+ young people and are supportive allies of our young LGBT+ clients.
When we work with LGBT+ clients we explain that identifying as LGBT+ may add a bit of extra stress to our stress bucket, especially if we have had some negative experiences or if we are critical of ourselves for being LGBT+.
We also aim to explain how the brain works to create things like anxiety, anger and depression and what we can do about it, regardless of how we identify. Having a trained therapist to talk to about the strengths and difficulties of identifying as LGBT+ can be a comfort to many young people.
Please find below a list of signposts to national organisations which support LGBT+ youth. There may be local organisations in your area who support young LGBT+ people as well.