Beyond Coming Out: Supporting Your LGBTQ Teenager

father and teen looking at phoneYour child came out to you and you’ve all made it through to the other side. Now what? How can you support your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) teenager as they move from childhood to adulthood?

There are as many experiences of being LGBTQ as there are LGBTQ teenagers. Below are four general guidelines to help you and your family support your child.

1. Expand what is possible.

We live in a world where people are considered “straight” and cisgendered (a person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth) unless proven otherwise. Because of this, parents and youth alike have narratives about what the future holds based on the assumptions of heterosexuality and a cisgender gender. Coming to an understanding that your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not what you thought means that you need to rewrite all of those stories about the future. Losing those stories, those dreams of what is possible, can feel terrible.

Many parents had dreams of marriage and grandchildren that now seem impossible, or at least unlikely. Part of accepting a LGBTQ child is acknowledging that these dreams for the future might need to change, and it’s OK to be upset about it. It is also an opportunity for you and your family to reimagine your future. Being LGBTQ in 2014 is a completely different experience than it was even 10 years ago. This might be a good time to turn to your child and learn from them. What do they see in their future? What are their dreams? Together, you and your family can expand what is possible for all of you.

2. Demonstrate unconditional love.

The tricky thing about adolescence is the way it bridges childhood and adulthood. Teenagers are still children in the sense that they need their parents’ love and affection. Having a supportive family plays a huge role in helping a LGBTQ youth feel good about themselves. It might not seem like you actually need to say out loud to your child that you love them regardless of their sexual orientation, but it is important for them to hear it.

Many children are not met with love and understanding when they come out to their families, and this narrative is a part of the greater LGBTQ story. Youth may worry about being disowned or rejected because of their sexual orientation even when it’s clear they are part of a supportive family. What are the things you can continue to do to let your child know you love them unconditionally?

3. Help them build community.

Adolescent development is all about connecting with other teenagers. It’s how we each learned to be the adults we are today. LGBTQ youth need to be able to connect to other teenagers who accept them for who they are.

These connections might not always be in the places you expect. For example, many youth who live in more rural communities might find connection through online sites or message boards. Real-life connection tends to be better, but isn’t always possible. Where are the places that your child can connect with people who “get” them?

4. Make sure you get support.

Your child is lucky to have you as a support. Now who is going to support you? It’s completely normal to have feelings of grief, disappointment, or fear when your child comes out. It doesn’t make you a bad parent or a bad person, and it’s important to have spaces where you can talk to people about all the feelings you have, including pride and empathy.

Where are the places in your life where you feel connected to people who respect and understand you? This might be at work, among family, or with a group of friends. Sometimes, seeing a therapist is a good way to have a completely nonjudgmental space for you to talk about your feelings. PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) can also be a great place to connect with other parents or caregivers. If you have a partner, what is it like talking with them about it? Can you provide support for each other?

Parenting a teenager who is LGBTQ can be challenging not because of your child’s sexual orientation, but because of what other people think of their sexual orientation. This is a subtle but important difference. Recognizing this difference can shift feelings of frustration away from your family and toward the outside world where the negative messages and experiences are happening.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Scot

    January 27th, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    I haven’t had to get to this point of even wondering with either of my children yet because they are still young, but I guess as a dad I have given a little thought to what I would do or say if my soms came to me to tell me that they were gay. And you know, I know that I would love them all the same, but I know that there would still be a part of me that would struggle a little with that kind of information. I am trying to learn and to grow but I think that as a parent you sort of have these expectations of what a child’s life will be like and I know that anything that goes against the grain makes things even harder for them. You don’t ever want that for your kid, you want things to be smooth sailing and anything that I can do to help prevent that hurt is what I want to naturally do. But withholding love or disowning them would never be an option because they are mine and I love them unconditionally.

  • Jill

    January 28th, 2014 at 3:45 AM

    At this age it would have to be terribly scary to share that you were identifying as this, but I think that what we can do as parents is to put our arms around our kids and tell them that no matter what, they are loved.

  • Joy

    January 28th, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    I have a very close friend whose daughter just came out and she and her husband are very much struggling with her news.
    It isn’t that they don’t love their daughter but they were raised to believe that this was wrong and so even though they love her they feel this need to change her, even though I have tried to let them gently know that this isn’t a choice that hse can make, it is who she is.
    I would love to have some resources available for them because I think that the whole family is truly going to struggle for a while with this.

  • Randy L

    January 29th, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    Helping them find a place where they feel that they “belong” will be critical! They are already going to feel different and ostracized, and if as a parent I can give them that sense of community that most of them so desperately need, then that is but one small thing that I can do as a parent to ease that transition.

  • louisa

    January 30th, 2014 at 4:54 AM

    I wish that it was a bed of roses for every family but I am sure that there are those for whom this will destroy the family unit and will make reunification almost impossible.

    Theer are simply too many people with feelings and beliefs that they have had for a very long time who don’t think that this will ever happen to their child or to their family and then when it does they are rocked to the core.

    It isn’t that they don’t love their children, but they have a hard time getting past the beliefs that they have always had about right and wrong. When their child then comes out to them, the damage can often be irreparable because they can never get past all of those old beliefs and feelings.

  • fayfay22

    January 30th, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    another good article damon! no one should be more accepting than a kids own parents. let’s get it right people!!!

  • Mike K

    February 19th, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    Would you like to send me this as w word document and give permission for it to be published in the newsletter of PFLAG Philadelphia?

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