Supporting and Protecting Kids Who Identify as LGBTQ+

This is part 2 of our 3-part series related to LGBTQ+. Please also check out part 1 (opens new window) and part 3 (opens new window).

Do any of your children identify as LGBTQ+? If so, and if you’ve done even a little research, you most likely learned that LGBTQ+ kids face higher rates of some mental health problems as compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers. The specific rates vary according to factors such as identity, age, and experience.

However, there are many ways that you can support and help protect LGBTQ+ kids from these negative outcomes.

In this article, we summarize some basic information on the higher rates of mental health issues LGBTQ+ kids face and give you some tips to help you support your kids.

It is important for you to know that a primary reason that LGBTQ+ kids have higher rates of mental health issues is because they are more likely than their non-LGBTQ+ peers or siblings to experience hatred, homophobia/transphobia, negativity, and discrimination. These negative, external experiences in turn are associated with mental health problems. So, the mental health problems are not necessarily due to LGBTQ+ identity, but instead, due to how the world treats LGBTQ+ kids for being LGBTQ+.

For example, kids who identify as LGBTQ+ have higher rates of suicide, hopelessness, substance use, anxiety, depression, unplanned pregnancy, and lack of social support.

You might read that list and feel scared, and if that is the case, you are not alone. But, as a parent, you have an opportunity to support, love, celebrate, and protect your child from some of the negative things they may experience that could lead to higher rates of poor outcomes.

# What are some things you can do to support and protect your child?

Perhaps the most beneficial and effective thing you can do to protect your kid who identifies as LGBTQ+ is to love them by showing your support and pride, and to help them to find and build an affirming community. How can you do this?

Start at home. Family support and acceptance have been connected to positive outcomes for LGBTQ+ kids. You can read more about supporting LGBTQ+ youth here (opens new window). Kids who identify as LGBTQ+ and have supportive and inclusive families have improved general wellbeing and self-esteem, as well as lower rates of suicide, substance use, and sexually transmitted diseases as compared to their LGBTQ+ peers who do not have support at home.

You can build this community at home by welcoming your child to talk about their experiences with their identity. Be open to hearing about their identity affirming experiences like their first crushes, things that allow them to feel gender euphoria, and going to their first Pride events. Maybe offer to go to Pride events with them, or help them find clothes that affirm their identity! Just as importantly, though, make space to help your kid through tough experiences like homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination.

Some kids who identify as LGBTQ+ may feel that their LGBTQ+ identity is a huge part of who they are and how they experience the world. This may become a central part of their lives, activities, peer groups, and more.

Other kids who identify as LGBTQ+ may feel that their LGBTQ+ identity is only one small aspect of their identity. Beanie Feldstein has described how her sexual identity fits in with her overall identity by saying, "for me in my life, it is a part of who I am but it is not at all my defining feature. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my girlfriend, it’s just part of who I am." You can read about more celebrity coming out stories here (opens new window).

# The way your kid experiences their identity might also change over time.

For example, when your kid first comes out to you or others about their LGBTQ+ identity, their LGBTQ+ identity may feel big and important. After all, it might be something they’ve been hiding for a long time. Once they tell others they may be excited to spend time exploring their identity and connecting with other people who identify as LGBTQ+. Over time as they find peer groups and partners they may no longer see their LGBTQ+ identity as their most salient identity. Some kids will always experience their LGBTQ+ identity as their most important identity, and other kids will never experience their LGBTQ+ identity as their most important identity.

There is no right or wrong way to experience LGBTQ+ identity. As a parent, it is important for you to know that the salience of your kid’s identity might shift, and that is totally okay.

# So, show your kid interest, be there for them, and follow their lead.

You can also make yourself and your home safe for your child by always supporting your kid’s identity, even when they are not with you. If you talk with others about your kid’s LGBTQ+ identity, make it clear that you approve of and are proud of their identity.

Do your best to ensure school is safe for your kid, too. There are major protective benefits to having an accepting and positive community in general, including your kid’s school. In fact, supportive school environments for LGBTQ+ kids are associated with benefits for all students, both those who identify as LGBTQ+ and those who do not.

So, how will you work towards building a better school environment for your LGBTQ+ kid? One example is advocating for LGBTQ+ spaces at school.

For example, if your kid’s school does not yet have a Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club (opens new window), you might talk to a school administrator about starting a chapter for your kid’s school. These clubs have been associated with improved mental health outcomes, increased sense of identity and belonging at school, and lower rates of suicide attempts. While these clubs may not directly cause these changes, it seems that having a built- in safe space at school could be protective against some of the potential negative experiences that LGBTQ+ youth face.

It is totally normal to feel nervous or uncomfortable advocating for policy or school-wide changes, especially if you have never done this before. Having a partner work with you as you advocate for change to help your kid and other LGBTQ+ kids can make the process a little easier. You might find another parent to work with, talk with the school guidance counselor, or even a trusted teacher.

# What else can you do?

In addition to approaching your child’s identity and experiences with love, respect, interest, and support, you can also work to educate yourself. While it is important to learn directly from your kid because everyone’s experiences are unique, it could be helpful to your kid if you spend some time educating yourself too.

Have you ever wondered if more kids are identifying as LGBTQ+ these days, and if so, what might explain this change? Check out this article to learn more about LGBTQ+ identity in kids today (opens new window).

You can also read this guide to coming out - (PDF) (opens new window) to learn more about what your kid may experience each time they come out as LGBTQ+. This guide is geared towards people coming out themselves, but we think it might be helpful for you, and you also might want to share it with your kid!

You also may want to connect with other parents of LGBTQ+ identifying kids. PFLAG (opens new window) is a group for parents and families of LGBTQ+ kids. They offer groups, training, and resources to learn about having someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ in your family.

# What to learn more?

Click here to read part 3: Talking to friends and family about your child's sexual or gender identity (opens new window)

# About the author

Chloe Bryen is a Ph.D. student studying Clinical Psychology at Florida State University. Her research focus is on suicide among marginalized populations, with a specific interest in LGBTQ+ identities.

In addition to research, Chloe is a student therapist providing individual and group therapy. Chloe’s work has been published in multiple academic journals and has been funded by the Association for Psychological Science and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

You can learn more about and connect with Chloe on Linkedin (opens new window), ResearchGate (opens new window), and Twitter. (opens new window)

# Do you or your child need support right now?

If you or your child are in a crisis situation please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones.

If you're not in crisis but would like to connect with an online counselor (through our partnership with Betterhelp), please use one of these links: