Maneuvering through the challenges of adolescence comes with many difficulties and stressors. Issues regarding sexual orientation and gender identity often bring a host of internal anxieties and confusion, and being seen as different in any way can lead to serious stigmatization amongst peers. For full disclosure, I am not an expert in LBGTQ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Questioning) issues, but this is an essential topic and in this article my hope is to share the basics with our community. If your child or family needs professional assistance with concerns related to LBGTQ, know that there are great resources and very qualified professionals who can provide support.
Among adolescents ages 18-19, just under 8 percent of females and just under 3 percent of males identify as homosexual or bisexual (source: HHS.gov), while 0.7 percent of the population ages 13 to 17 identify as one of the two.
While many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adolescents are happy and thrive during their teenage years, many feel isolated, ashamed and afraid of being discovered that they are different. As a result, they may face significant psychological and social issues. While in most issues of conflict, children have the support and understanding of their parents, many LBGTQ youth may feel they have to keep their feelings hidden from their families, and when they are known, often do not feel or get any support. This complicates and intensifies the psychological issues. As a result, LBGTQ teens have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, and are often the recipients of severe bullying. Some of the facts include:
- 77 percent of LBGTQ teens have admitted to depression
- 95 percent have trouble sleeping
- 70 percent have experienced feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
- 26 percent say they don’t feel safe in schools, and only 5 percent feel supported by school staff and teachers
- 67 percent have heard negative comments from their own families
- 73 percent have experienced verbal threats, and have experienced bullying because of their sexual orientation
Knowing how to be available, present, and loving to your child when they have the courage to let you know about their sexual orientation or non-conforming gender identity is essential. For many, “coming out” and breaking the news to their parents is extremely frightening, yet at the same time acceptance and support are the most helpful things a parent can give. For many parents, this area is more confusing than most, and parents often feel helpless and uninformed. However, letting your child know that you love him/her and that you will provide support regardless of your own fears and confusion can be monumental for the child. Should your child express themselves to you, some suggestions are:
Educate yourself, and learn the facts. There are excellent LBGTQ centers in Los Angeles that have resources, reading materials and parental workshops. Acceptance and love of your child is first and foremost, and if your own feelings are interfering, make sure you get support for what you may be going through. Find professional help if needed. Do not project your fears and difficulties onto your child. As difficult as this is for you as a parent, it is more difficult for a kid or teen. Your child needs your help and needs to know you are there for him/her.
Embrace your child. This is not just a phase that will pass, nor something that needs to be “cured.”
Stay aware for signs of depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. These may be expressed directly, or may be subtle, with symptoms like isolation, a sense of hopelessness, fear of engaging in social activities, a decline in grades and/or the use of drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
Look for incidents of bullying, either directly or through social media. Be an advocate for your child if you see signs, and help stand up for them with school personnel or with other parents.
Consider advocating for your child’s rights and feelings and get involved with other parents doing the same thing. Our community has great resources of parents helping each other to make sure they have the tools to help their children. Do not stand quietly while friends joke or judge about LBGTQ issues, and let others know you will not tolerate that.
Help them learn about healthy relationships, even if they are not going down the road you have envisioned for them. Letting them know about respect, healthy dating and self-protection is important.
While this can be a difficult time for your child and your family, it is your duty to provide love, caring, education and support. Know that you are not alone. Our community has many great resources and outstanding experts available to provide guidance and care. A good place to start is with www.southbayfamiliesconnected.org, which has articles, parental blogs and resources. They also have a page for parents of LGBTQ+ youth: https://www.southbayfamiliesconnected.org/lgbtq
Remember, if you have issues you would like to see addressed, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moe Gelbart, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Thelma McMillen Center