When Your Child Comes Out: How to Be Supportive to LGBTQ+ Children and Teens
Think back on a time you broke something at home and had to tell a parent. Remember how the anticipation felt. You may have thought, are they going to be upset? Am I going to lose TV privileges? How do I explain that it was a TOTAL accident?
The anxiety you felt in that moment may be the closest anxiety you know to that of a closeted LGBTQ+ child. Except instead of TV privileges, they fear losing a place to live. Instead of upset parents, they fear their parents will be disgusted by them. Instead of explaining away an accident, they have to defend themselves because it’s just who they are.
See how quickly the stakes rise when it comes to sexuality and gender identity?
That’s why it’s imperative that you, as a parent, know how to be supportive when an LGBTQ+ child comes out to you. Here’s advice from a therapist on what to keep in mind.
Tell Your Child or Teen You Believe Them, Love Them, and Thank Them for Trusting You
Some parents feel like if they don’t make a big deal about their child coming out, it will help them feel like being queer is okay and normal. While the intentions are good, acting too casually about their news might convince them you didn’t totally hear what they said, or you’re hiding how you really feel.
Think back to the fears we laid out earlier. Right now, they fear parental rejection, so give them the opposite.
Thank them for telling you, trusting you, and being vulnerable with you. Remind them how much you love them, even if they cringe and roll their eyes at you for getting cheesy. Trust us: they do want to hear you supporting them.
Be Curious About What They Need From You
Every queer kid is different and has different needs. This is why it’s important to empty your mind of stereotypes and avoid saying things like, “I knew all along.”
What may be obvious to you could have taken them years of self exploration to understand. They could have been rejecting these feelings for years before finally realizing they have to accept who they are. Don’t accidentally diminish their journey by assuming you knew.
Instead, opt for asking questions! Is there anyone else they want to tell? Do they want you to be there if and when they tell the rest of the family? Do they currently feel safe at school, or are they facing any bullies? Are they interested in meeting other LGTBQ+ people through a youth program?
You’re allowed to let them know you don’t have any questions now, but you might later. Coming out is a process. Be open-minded and check in with them to see if they have the mental capacity to talk before continuing the conversation a day or a week later.
Educate Yourself on LGTBQ+ History
LGBTQ+ terminology is constantly changing. Every day the world becomes more accepting and closer to normalizing gender and sexuality on a spectrum. Instead of assuming you know best by preaching it’s “just a phase” or shaming them with religion, do your own research.
Commit to being an ally by learning about the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Find LGTBQ+ role models in your corner of the internet to learn from—even religious leaders!
LGTBQ youth are at a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse. When LGTBQ youth feel supported by their families and communities, they’re more likely to develop at the same rate as their straight and cisgender peers.
Let this speak volumes to the importance of being a supportive parent to an LGBTQ child. Sometimes, you need to start by supporting yourself.