How to support the mental health of your LGBTQ child

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When Justin Larson’s son came out as a transsexual at age 11, she didn’t know how to react. Although she supported LGBTQ communities, Larson struggled to accept that her child, to whom a woman was assigned at birth, would have a different life than she had imagined.

“We didn’t pay as much attention to him as we should have,” she said of her and her husband’s response. “Their child was generally quite depressed and even had some suicidal thoughts.”

Feeling conflicted and hurt, Larson eventually realized that he needed to support his son as much as he could.

About 9.5 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds in the United States belong to the LGBTQ community, according to a 2020 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School. And LGBTQ young people who felt high social support from their families reported suicide attempts with less than half of those who felt low or moderate support, according to The Trevor Project’s 2022 Mental Health Survey of LGBTQ youth.

The acronym LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, or interrogation. The term also includes non-binary people.

Support from parents and guardians can affect a child’s mental health. When a child comes along, parents don’t always know what to do and what to say, and that’s good, said Caitlin Ryan, director of the Foster Care Project. The main thing is that you are next to your child, she added.

Here are some ways you can support the mental health of your LGBTQ child.

When a child comes out or speaks openly about their LGBTQ identity, it is important to listen and respect what they have to say.

“You don’t have to be an expert on LGBTQ identities and topics to support your LGBTQ child, you just have to discuss LGBTQ issues openly and respectfully,” Amit Paley, CEO and CEO of The Trevor Project, said in an email.

However, if you are not ready for these open conversations or think that talking to your child will lead to an argument, it may be helpful to take a step back and focus on learning more about your child’s identity, said Michael LaSala. , Professor of Social Work at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He is also the author of Coming Out, Coming Home.

Instead, you can listen respectfully to what your child says without interrupting, punishing, or making fun of him, Ryan said.

“Even if you’re still struggling and very hesitant, you tell your child, ‘I love you, I’m here for you, I won’t leave you, and I’ll learn how to take care of you as an LGBTQ youth,'” Ryan said. .

When children go out, some parents and guardians initially struggle to understand their child’s identity. In addition, some parents of transgender or non-binary adolescents may find it difficult to adapt to their child’s chosen name and pronouns. However, it is important to use the child’s chosen name and pronouns, regardless of inner emotions, Ryan said.

Just being there for your child and reminding them that you love and care for them can promote a safe and trusting environment. If a parent cannot accept their child, they risk losing them, LaSala said.

It is essential that parents and caregivers perform seemingly minor actions – which are in fact crucial – such as respecting pronouns, a 19-year-old nicknamed “Alex” told CNN.

The teenager, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not completely outside, used gender-neutral or gender-neutral pronouns zie / zem / zeir.

It is difficult for a teenager to go zeir mother, especially as a non-binary, because the mother often confuses people and calls them their old names, not their favorite names. Alex said it was demoralizing for the land.

There is a lot of misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity, Ryan said, and this can lead some parents to reject their child when they go out.

When Larson’s son came out, she didn’t fully understand what it meant to be transsexual. She said it was important for her to realize that being transsexual was not a choice. At first, Larson told her son that he didn’t need to decide right away, but she learned more and realized that his gender was not a decision.

“It’s a journey and the place you are now is probably not the place you will be in this in a few years,” LaSala said. “Be patient with yourself and keep educating yourself. And once you are able to calm down, keep the lines of communication open and get as much education as possible (as much as you can).

Resources to support your child

  • If your child needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 866-488-7386, via chat here or via START SMS on 678678.
  • Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, is a national network that provides support, education and advocacy to LGBTQ people, their parents, families and allies. Find a chapter near you here.
  • The Family Adoption Project and the SOGIE National Center have a map with the possibility to search for national programs and facilities that support LGBTQ youth and families.
  • Gender Spectrum has a list of resources and support groups for parents of transgender, non-binary or sexually expansive children.
  • My Kid Is Gay is a digital resource center dedicated to helping parents and guardians understand their LGBTQ children.
  • Parents and caregivers may respond to their child’s release with complex emotions, including grief and fear. In some cases, they can express these emotions in ways that sound repulsive. You don’t have to be discouraged by these emotions, LaSala said.

    Some parents may experience a sense of mourning for their child and the childhood they expected their son or daughter to have. This is especially common for parents of transgender and non-binary children, LaSala added.

    A common emotion that people experience after their child comes out is fear, according to Angela Weeks, director of the SOGIE National Center at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. The center promotes the well-being of young people with different sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions. This fear can stem from a variety of factors, including fear of losing a community, fear of being judged as a parent, fear that their child will have a more challenging life or be discriminated against, and fear of not knowing what to say.

    While it is normal to have these fears and worries, it is important to learn how to deal with these emotions and start unpacking them away from the child. Ideally, the non-judgmental other is prepared to tolerate intolerance as a therapist, but it’s a good idea to talk to anyone you feel safe with, LaSala said.

    Parents can also join support groups for parents of LGBTQ children, such as the Network of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

    Young people in the LGBTQ community often hear negative things about their identity, and parents or guardians can be a great buffer against some of the negativity, Ryan said. People can harass or discriminate against LGBTQ youth at school, religious congregations or other public spaces.

    Parents can learn how to stand up for their children, as well as teach them how to protect and defend themselves.

    Alex said it would have been easier to get out if Zaire’s family had created a more supportive environment at home.

    “It’s important to be able to go home and say, ‘Yes, this is a safe place.’ “This is where people will accept me no matter what,” Alex said.

    Larson said there was no substitute for parental acceptance and support, and that it was crucial for her son to know that she and her husband accepted and loved their son.

    “Your child will take on their journey, whether you approve or not,” Larson said. “You can help and support them with that, or you can make it difficult for them.”

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