Adolescence is a crucial time for young adults to discover their personal identity, develop social circles, and navigate their developing sexuality – regardless of their sexual orientation. Despite identifying as straight or LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, and trans), all teenagers experience family and peer influences that affect their social, psychological, and emotional development. Because teen development is such a sensitive period, negative influences and judgements from one’s family or peers can easily jeopardize self-esteem and coping behaviors...and this is especially true for LGBT youth who are questioning their sexuality. Without positive support, teens can have serious setbacks in their physical and mental health.
How is my LGBT teen at risk?
Despite increasing social acceptance, given the historical context of homophobia and negative views against homosexuality, today’s LGBT teens are still at risk. LGBT youth are in danger of experiencing prejudice and discrimination in schools, religious communities, neighborhoods, and even in the home. Family rejection, school bullying, and the prevalence of hate crime in one’s community are reported to be the strongest factors that lead to mental health issues among LGBT youth. Feeling safe is crucial for any adolescent to develop successfully. Without positive support, LGBT youth are at risk for:
- Poor academic performance
- Difficulty developing healthy coping skills
- Homelessness resulting from family rejection
- Substance abuse
- Self-injury or self-harm
- Suicide idealization and attempts
- Limited or no access to sexual health resources, which can lead to unsafe sex practices and STDs/STIs
What can I do for my LGBT teen?
Parents with LGBT kids may feel responsible for their sexuality. It is not unusual for parents to feel anger, sadness, or even guilt. If you are struggling to cope or understand your teenager, here’s what you can do now:
- Realize that as a parent, you did not make them gay. Don’t beat yourself up over not taking your child to church enough or allowing your daughter to play with race cars instead of dolls. Letting your son wear pink did not influence their sexuality.
- Understand that being gay wasn’t a choice. Research supports that sexual orientation is genetic – not optional. Convincing them to change will drive them away and increase the distance between you. Focus on connecting with your child rather than converting them.
- Be supportive: Even if it makes you uncomfortable, it is important to support your teen through this important stage in life. Their well-being depends on you.
- Be open to conversation: Let your child express their worries and concerns and listen without judgement. It is crucial for your child to feel safe around the family.
- Encourage them to seek out support: There are many LGBT communities and resources that can help your child. Even if you don’t have the right tools to help, these communities encourage positive development and can help teens safely explore their sexuality.
LGBT teens need positive support from their family, friends, and community to thrive. With family acceptance, supportive school programs, and inclusive communities that affirm LGBT youths’ identities, LGBT teens have a high potential to develop resilience and grow up to be healthy, happy adults. If you or your teen are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Our team of MFT’s have the experience and professional background to help you and your family navigate your challenges. Visit our directory to find a therapist for support.
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