Updated on November 19, 2023
Supporting LGBTQ+: What Parents Need to Know About Your Teen Coming Out and Mental Health Struggles
Statistics show that LGBTQ+ teens are at a higher risk for suicide than those who identify as straight. While it may be logical to assume this is due to gender identity, the reality is it is due to family and society acceptance, or lack thereof, by the family and society of non-gender-conforming teens. The risk is quite high.
- LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
- 1.8 million LGTBQ+ youth seriously consider suicide every year in the U.S.
- With a suicide attempt happening every 45 seconds.
If you are a parent of a teen who has come out or who is questioning their identity, you must take this risk seriously. The way you respond to your teen and seek support and help will be an essential part of protecting them from this risk. Here is a closer look at what parents need to know.
Understanding LGBTQ+ Terms: A Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity and Sexuality
Gender identity has changed significantly over recent decades. For parents, understanding the various terms associated with the LGBTQ+ community is a first step in helping their teens accept themselves for who they are. Some common terms include:
- Questioning: This is a teen who is questioning their sexuality, wondering if they do not conform to traditional gender forms or are exploring or unsure about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Gay: Though this is a term sometimes used for all LGBTQ+ identities, it technically refers to a male who is attracted to other males.
- Lesbian: Lesbian refers to females attracted to other females.
- Bisexual: This term refers to someone who is attracted to both males and females equally.
- Transgender: A transgender person is someone whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth; in short an individual who feels they are the opposite gender as their biological sex.
- Gender fluid: This is a person who feels their gender changes, and they will present sometimes as male and sometimes as female. A person who is gender fluid may feel like a mix of genders, or their gender identity may change over time
- Asexual: An asexual person doesn’t experience sexual attraction to people of any gender, but rather is attracted to individuals regardless of their gender.
- Queer: This term means someone who does not conform to society’s traditional gender norms.
- LGBTQ+: The term LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and others, representing a diverse community of sexual orientations and gender identities.
- Gender Identity: This term refers to how a person sees themselves in terms of gender, which might be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
If your teenager comes out, they will likely use a term that they apply to themselves. Accept their term and learn more about it, and then determine if your teen is struggling with any of the common issues these kids face, so you can seek the right support.
Overcoming Family Rejection: Supporting Your LGBTQ+ Teen
Sadly, many families struggle to accept their teens when they come out as gender fluid, lesbian, gay, or transgender. Being rejected by family is one of the most challenging things a teen can face.
Family should be a place where people are loved and accepted without question, and when those bonds are broken, severe mental health issues can develop.
Sadly, when families reject an LGBTQ+ teen, that teen can lose their home. It’s not uncommon for a teen to get kicked out when they come out, especially if they come from a household that values traditional family structures and is unwilling to accept other options.
This risk is severe, as up to 40% of homeless teens identify as LGBTQ+. Being homeless can prevent a teen from accessing proper education, mental health resources, social support, and more.
Interestingly, the National Institutes of Health has studied this phenomenon, and they found that sometimes, the anticipation of family rejection causes trauma even if the family ends up accepting the student. The anticipation of parental rejection can cause as much trauma as the actual event.
A Journey of Acceptance: Maria's Story
Maria, a 16-year-old high school student, always felt like a square peg in a round hole. Growing up in a traditional and super-religious family, she struggled to understand her identity. As she got older, she was feeling more and more ‘out of place.’
She was torn between the need to be authentic and the fear of being rejected by her family. The day she came out as bisexual to her family was both liberating and terrifying.
Her parents, steeped in conservative views, initially reacted with shock, disbelief, and total disappointment. Maria felt a profound sense of rejection, her worst fears came through and she thought she had lost her family’s love forever.
However, Maria’s story didn’t end there. Her parents, though initially resistant, began to educate themselves. They sought counseling and education about LGBTQ+ issues, joining their local PFLAG support groups for parents and engaging in open conversations with Maria.
While they couldn’t condone her behavior at first, over time, they became more understanding and empathetic to her journey.
They were even proud of her courage to be true to herself, even in the face of adversity. The happier Maria was, the harder it was for them to remain staunch in their limited beliefs.
After all, as parents, we just want to see our children happy and fulfilled. Through this journey, they transformed from a state of rejection to one of acceptance.
For Maria, everything changed, her mental health struggles, which made her fragile during her early teens and more so during the period of family conflict, gradually improved. She found strength in her parents’ evolving acceptance, feeling empowered and validated.
Her story is a testament to the transformative power of understanding, love, and acceptance within families.
Maria’s experience highlights a critical message for all parents: accepting your LGBTQ+ teen can be life-changing and is a vital step in safeguarding their mental health.
How to Support LGBTQ+ Youth Effectively: Acceptance and Resources
The best way to provide support to LGBTQ+ teens is through acceptance and providing safe spaces and support systems for these teens. Encouraging teens to know that they are accepted, no matter their gender identity can help them feel as though they can be honest.
When they have a safe space to share their experiences and feelings, they are less likely to fall victim to the more challenging mental health struggles faced by these young people.
Building support systems in families, schools, and society for these youth is also essential. Advertising where teens can go for support, for example, will increase the likelihood that teens will get support when they need it.
Finally, making sure mental health resources are accessible to all teens, regardless of their sexuality, will help prevent some of the struggles faced by LGBTQ+ youth. Through insurance, free community programs, school counseling, and other organizations, these teens should know where they can turn when they need mental health support.
When a teenager is struggling with their identity, consider getting them professional support. Finding mental health support that is accepting of LGBTQ+ lifestyles is essential, as trying to change a teen through therapy is quite damaging.
If the mental health risks are severe, parents should consider a residential or long-term therapy solution. With the right help and support, these teens can learn to thrive.