How to Help an LGBT Teen Cope with the Orlando Massacre

Father sitting on floor offers support to grieving teen sitting on bedThis past weekend, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a violent act of such unconscionable magnitude took place that many people are still sorting out the emotional and psychological impact. So many of my peers and friends, inside and outside the LGBT community, have been riding an emotional roller coaster from anger to fear, with grief, confusion, and sadness rolled into the mix.

As challenging as it is for adults to experience and process these emotions, it may be even more daunting for LGBT teens still sorting out their identity. Many of the teens I work with in therapy are feeling very vulnerable and fragile in the aftermath of the June 12 massacre, which took the lives of 49 people and injured dozens more. These teens’ sense of self and safety has been rocked on a level most people will never understand.

And in this age of smartphones, social media, and instantaneous information, the raw, disturbing images and videos of the events in Orlando have been all but unavoidable for many teens. They are seeing news reports about the shooter and the victims, witnessing reactions from around the world, hearing people talk, and whispering among themselves.

It is vital that all kids be allowed to safely sort out their reactions and feelings to this tragedy; this is especially true for LGBT teens. As a therapist who specializes in working with LGBT teens and their families, here are some of the ways you can support your teen or someone you know through this rough time:

  • Help them sort out and name their feelings. When a seemingly senseless act of violence or other tragedy occurs, it is often difficult for our brains and bodies to process the emotional surge that occurs. Assist teens in identifying and naming their feelings, and then validate that these feelings are a normal and powerful response to the situation. Ask plenty of open-ended questions. If you think it would help, perhaps share some of your own feelings as a means of keeping the conversation flowing, but try not to dominate the conversation.
  • Discuss the issue of safety and security. Be aware that LGBT teens may be feeling deep sadness for peers who were killed, injured, or personally affected by the tragedy, and may be feeling unsafe and unsure. Initiate a conversation about creating or maintaining a basic sense of safety in the home, at school, and in public. Promote the idea that awareness and preparation are a strong and productive way to address these feelings.
  • Talk about the importance of compassion and empathy, and remind them that they are not alone in their feelings. Encourage conversations about how others are affected by the event, and ask whether there are ways you, your family, or the teen personally can help support those people. Perhaps look at ways to champion a relevant cause, consider donating in support of the victims and their families, see if there are meaningful community events you or they could attend, and encourage the teen to reach out to other LGBT youth to provide support, comfort, and conversation.
  • Come together as a family to surround your teen with love and support. If they want to watch applicable news stories, offer to watch with them and talk about it afterward if they feel so inclined. If they want to immerse themselves in social media, remind them you are nearby in case they get overwhelmed by what they see, read, or write. Encourage them to seek out positive stories of people helping and communities coming together, which may reinforce the good in the world and help them feel less alone.
  • If it feels like the overwhelm they are experiencing is not diminishing with time, assist them in finding professional help. Many LGBT teens may feel this on a personal, deep, gut level, and could be experiencing posttraumatic stress. Finding a therapist who works with LGBT teens, or even a local LGBT support group, may be worthwhile.

Providing a framework for open, honest conversation and emotional expression is critical in helping teens develop an understanding of what a difficult event means for them and their community. Coming together as a family to create a safe space may help your teen feel loved and supported as they sort through the many emotions triggered by this tragedy. If you need additional support, please consider seeking a trained therapist who has experience with LGBT populations, young people in particular.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California

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

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  • Oskar

    Oskar

    June 17th, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    I don’t believe that I have given this too much thought as I have been wrapped up in my own grief and sadness over the situation. I have known that I was gay for a very long time and I know that senseless things like this happen but I am an adult and have the coping mechanisms to deal while someone who is younger may not yet have that same confidence in themselves to make it through that ye. I want to work with young members of this community, to let them know that there may be times when it feels like everyone in world is judging them but if they come out and they are strong then eventually they will meet the people who need to be in their lives, those who will not judge and who will lend the kind of powerful support and love in their lives that all of us need.

  • Rena

    Rena

    June 17th, 2016 at 12:53 PM

    How about helping them get involved with community outreach and stuff? Not only gives them the chance to do things to feel more comfortable with who they are but could also give them the chance to help others who could be struggling

  • Alton

    Alton

    June 18th, 2016 at 8:57 AM

    Is there ever any really good way to help someone with some tragedy like this? The hardest thing about it I think especially for kids this age is that there is no answer for why, there is no meaning behind the act. It is done with malice and intent and they are automatically going to think that they could be next.

  • julianna

    julianna

    June 20th, 2016 at 5:35 AM

    It is always such a shock when you have a story like this and while it may not directly touch your life for all of us in some ways it does touch us and makes us feel like we are hated and life would possibly be better for others if we were not here. I mean, I know that this is not true but there are thousands of people who begin to feel like this and start thinking would the world be better off without them? And then the unthinkable starts all over again. What a terrible cycle of violence that we find ourselves caught up in these days.

  • Brian Doyle

    Brian Doyle

    June 20th, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    My teen needs peers in the lgbtq community meeting and talking. They are not as willing to share with their parents

  • Jonathan22

    Jonathan22

    June 20th, 2016 at 11:47 AM

    I am so fortunate to have friends and families who understand my life and that I feel safe and comfortable talking with about almost anything. They would not judge me because of who I love. Wow I wish so much that everyone had friends like this in their lives.

  • Matt

    Matt

    June 21st, 2016 at 9:27 AM

    So glad that I don’t have to go through a situation like this, but I imagine for the parents who are encountering this that it would be very tough.

  • Regina

    Regina

    June 22nd, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    There are so many outlets for kids to get involved with these days, so many community programs to help them feel safe and protected. I think that there is probably one in almost any area of the country where they can go to talk and talk to others about the fears that they are having.

  • Tucker

    Tucker

    June 23rd, 2016 at 3:17 PM

    Could we just do what we can to let them know that they are always loved? I know that for older Americans this can be a new thing and learning to be accepting of those things which we may not understand can be a challenge. But it is even more of a challenge to go on living without knowing that your family loves you. I think that there are probably a lot of teems who still struggle with this and who simply want to know that someone is there for them.

  • Bea S

    Bea S

    June 24th, 2016 at 9:51 AM

    I know that if I was gay right now I would be frightened. And how would you even know how to name that if you are young and do not have any experience much with life? I think that we have to wrap our arms around this community and continually let them know that acceptance is coming but we are there to catch them and help make it better until it does.

  • Lori H.

    Lori H.

    June 25th, 2016 at 7:59 AM

    As the parents of two gay kids, therapists, and ally/activists for the LGBTQ community, my husband and I have “adopted” many of our kids’ gay and trans friends. Often children/young adults are too scared to tell their parents or worse, rejected by their parents, for being who they are. PFLAG, national support group for parents and kids has chapters everywhere. They are a tremendous resource. My husband and I have been part of the organization for 5 years and have marched in Pride Parades with our fellow PFLAGers. There are many young people who come to the meetings, with or without their parents. As PFLAG parents we are there to give support to kids/young people who don’t have that support in their own families. You can find a chapter at PFLAG.org.

  • Georgia

    Georgia

    June 26th, 2016 at 5:24 AM

    Lori- the care and love that you give to others sounds so awesome.
    We need a world full of you! ;)

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    June 26th, 2016 at 9:51 AM

    Georgia, Thanks for your kind words. I’m just a mama bear. :)

  • Claire

    Claire

    June 27th, 2016 at 1:29 PM

    You just need to hold your babies tight and remind them just how much love you will always have for them.

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