Dealing with Bullies: The Support Your LGBTQ+ Child Needs

Cropped view showing shoulders-down photo of teen sitting alone on bench listening to music with phoneEven with all of the advances that have been made, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) children and teenagers still experience high rates of bullying and discrimination. Families I work with often want to know how they can help their children grow up into proud, successful, and confident adults. In fact, parents are the first line of defense in helping a child survive bullying.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines bullying as “a form of unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and that is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated over time.” Research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk for experiencing bullying (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). LGBTQ+ children and teens are minorities in a society that is organized around heterosexual relationships, which creates an imbalance of power. Some people have access to societal support and benefits that others are denied.

People often think of homophobia (or transphobia) as physical or verbal violence against LGBTQ+ individuals; however, that violence can take many forms. And because homophobia is often directed at someone because that person looks gay rather than because the person is gay, it can be experienced by anyone whose appearance challenges traditional expressions of masculinity and femininity. Trans youth may experience homophobia or transphobia. Transphobia describes an intense dislike, hatred, or fear of transgender people.

Bullying is not an individual problem, but rather a societal problem. I’ve often spoken with families who are upset their child is gay or transgender because of the abuse they might face. They feel if their child could change, not attract attention, or at least wait until they’ve graduated from school, then they would be safe from bullies, homophobia, and transphobia. This comes from a place of love and concern, but it places the blame on the victim. My response is to redirect that anger and disappointment to the school system and a society that is homophobic and transphobic. It is never the child’s fault when they are bullied or experience discrimination. The big-picture solution lies in activism toward full acceptance of the wide range of gender and sexual diversity that exists. But how do we help kids who are experiencing bullying right now?

Not every child has the same reaction to being bullied. Some are more able to overcome and bounce back from these experiences. Researchers define this as resilience, and parents or caregivers can play a key role in helping children build resilience (Steiglitz, 2010). In a study of transgender youth, Stieglitz found that social support from family and friends played a major factor in youth resilience. This included emotional support and acceptance and ongoing support of housing, food, clothing, and education. This support was found to be a protective factor for transgender youth in the study.

This is meaningful information for parents. Family acceptance can lead struggling youth to self-acceptance. Providing support and acceptance of your child is, in and of itself, a protective factor to help your child combat bullying or discrimination.

Parents and caregivers can also connect LGBTQ+ youth to role models and community. LGBTQ+ youth often grow up without any mirrors. They don’t see people like themselves. This is especially true for transgender youth. The amount of time a teenager spends online can sometimes seem excessive, but I’ve found this time is often spent connecting to other people like themselves through social media. These connections are a good start and can reduce feelings of isolation, but helping youth connect in person to others like themselves is even better. Helping youth connect with other youth and identifying role models in your community may provide a vision for what their future could hold. Look for your local Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) group or LGBTQ youth group, or support your child in getting involved in the gay/straight alliance at school.

Eliminating bullying is a long-term project, but helping children and teens build resilience to be able to feel good about themselves even if they do experience bullying can happen right now. Providing a safe family where they are accepted and supported provides a protective factor that sticks with them as they go out and into the world.

References:

  1. Steiglitz, K. A. (2010). Development, risk, and resilience of transgender youth. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 21(3), 192-206.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.) What is bullying? Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.) Who is at risk? Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk

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  • Evelyn

    Evelyn

    July 25th, 2014 at 2:32 PM

    There are some instances when even the most encouraging words and the greatest self esteem builders still aren’t enough. Being bullied is a terrible thing even for the most resilient hearts and there are going to be some young adults who simply, no matter how much they have been supported and been made to feel like it is always ok to be themselves, who won’t be able to withstand the anger and hatred that is inherent in any bullying case.

  • Selma

    Selma

    July 26th, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    I say support them as a family and let them be free to be who they want to be.
    It may not be the choice that you would have made for them- this rarely happens with our kids at most times in their lives. Don’t they all make choices and lifestyles that at one point or another we don’t agree with?
    I know that I did, but no matter what my parents never stopped loving me and never threatened to not love me if I did this or that.
    They were always there for me whether they agreed with me or not and I would hope that this one little thing would help more in the LGBT community to feel more comfortable with their choices and to know that no matter what someone still loves them.

  • sean

    sean

    July 26th, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    How can a young person find acceptance of hinself without also feeling that form his family? Just because you don’t understand something does not make it wrong.
    What would make it wrong would be for those family members to expect that the child should completely deny who he or she is just to conform to the norms of society.
    Don’t put your kids through that. There are already so many hurdles that these kids will have to face from strangers, they don’t need to have to fight this batlle amongst friends and family too.

  • Brenton

    Brenton

    July 27th, 2014 at 5:04 AM

    This whole thing with so much bullying has gotten way out of control and it seems to keep snowballing with no real end to it in sight. You stop it from harming one group and there is always someone else that they will see as weaker and will begin to pick on and punsih them. It is a hard thing to watch the damage that bullying of any kind does to a kid, so much harm there that goes on, seen and unseen. I wish that there was a way to totally wipe it out and we can say all we want that words will never hurt us but they do and that is a fact. Let us be more mindful of just how hurtful those words can be and let us take that time to think of how we would hurt if those words were then directed at us.

  • Claire B.

    Claire B.

    July 28th, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    At least society is becoming a little more enlightened recently and the gay community is facing some of the most open minded people than they probably ever have. That is a positive.

    Now I am not saying that there still sren’t closed minded people in this world, you are going to find that no matter where you live or what your walk of life happens to be. But I definitely think that things are improving.

  • Gidget

    Gidget

    July 28th, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    I have never understood that whole blame the victim mentality. If they could change the thig about themselves that makes them the target of bullies then don’t you think that they would?
    In this instance this is not a choice that they have made but simply who they are. I don’t have to change so that I don’t get bullied and neither should they.

  • Morgan

    Morgan

    July 29th, 2014 at 3:41 PM

    So may be the bullies need som help at home too. Maybe they are feeling shunned about something that they are going through and the only way that they know how to recat is by taking out their anger and fristration on others. I am not condoning or excusing, just maing an observation that there could be things that we could change easily if we looked at their background too as well as what kind of acceptance or lack thereof at home.

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