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Parental Support is Key to Helping LGBTQ Youth

Author: Diana Schofield, PsyD
Published Date: Monday, February 18, 2019

By Dr. Diana Schofield, PsyD

Parents and kids often find the pre-adolescent and teen years challenging. It can be an especially critical time for children who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB).

Research indicates that between 2-7% of adults are LGB and studies show that young people may become aware of sexual attraction to another person at around the age of 10. While some youth share their sexual orientation with their parents or other family members, others may not.

When your children share their sexual orientation, they may worry about being rejected by family members, friends, and society. As a result, it can have a negative effect on their overall well-being. Research indicates that family acceptance promotes well-being and protects LGB youth against risk. Family rejection has a significant impact on a young person’s risk for health and mental health problems.

Teenagers who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual are more likely to experience rejection, physical violence, and bullying than their heterosexual peers. They also face a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors and report higher rates of substance abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fortunately, parents can help. A positive family environment that includes acceptance and support can help LGBTQ teens experience healthy emotional adjustment.

In fact, LGBTQ youth who feel valued by their parents are less likely to:

  • Experience depression.
  • Attempt suicide.
  • Use drugs and alcohol.
  • Contract sexually transmitted diseases.

Research on parenting consistently shows how important it is for parents to have a healthy relationship with their teens – regardless of their sexual orientation. Parents should have honest conversations about sex with them. They should know who their teens’ friends are, and what they are doing. Together, teens and parents should develop goals for academics and good health.

Here are four ways families can support the health and well-being of their LGBTQ teens:

Open communication.

Parents should talk with their children about their LGBTQ identity even if you feel uncomfortable. Your children need to feel loved and supported, and creating space for discussion about identity is important to children and teens developing self-worth and self-esteem. When they’re ready, they may seek your advice on how to talk to others about their sexual orientation. Talk to your children about bullying, and report any mistreatment that occurs at school to teachers and the principal.

Stay supportive.

Parents may need to take time to understand their own feelings about their child’s sexual orientation. Learning more about your child’s sexual orientation will help you understand and help them. Local support groups, such as PFLAGHR.com, may provide a space to talk with other parents and family members with LGBTQ children and adolescents.

Stay involved.

Make sure to include your teens in family events and activities and connect them with LGBTQ organizations, resources, and events. Make an effort to know your children’s friends and romantic partners to help keep your children safe. Connecting your child with an LGBTQ adult role model may show your child options for the future. Believe that your child can have a happy future as an LGBTQ adult.

Get help when it’s needed.

If you think your child needs mental health support, talk to your child’s health provider. Your child may receive support from a school counselor, social worker, psychologist, or other health professional.

References:

About Diana Schofield, PsyD

Diana Schofield, PsyD, came to CHKD after directing the Tidewater Child Development Clinic at the Norfolk Department of Health. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. She is proud to be a part of the developing Mental Health program at CHKD, which seeks to integrate mental health clinicians into primary and specialty care medical settings, to foster close collaboration between CHKD providers, and to focus on treating the whole child and whole family.