Adolescent years can be a difficult time regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, but compared to heterosexual youth, LGBTQIA teens are more likely to experience bullying, physical violence or rejection. As a parent, it is imperative to be aware of the increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors of LGBTQIA teens.
In the past, very few adolescents would have felt comfortable coming out to their parents and families before adulthood. Now more teens are coming out at a younger age, but it doesn’t make it any less daunting.
LGBTQIA teens experience better health outcomes as it concerns their sexual orientation when they have supportive parents. “At ACCESS, we have been a proud ally to the LGBTQIA community for decades and we understand that while the LGBTQIA community experiences many of the same health issues as the rest of the population, it is disproportionately at risk for violence, physical and emotional abuse, and mental health disorders," says ACCESS’ Director of Behavioral Health Suzanne Snyder, L.C.S.W.
This is why it is crucial that LGBTQIA individuals of all ages be provided with the necessary support and resources. Here are some tips to help parents support the health and well-being of LGBTQIA teens:
- Engage your child. Your LGBTQIA teen requires the same level of care, respect, information and support as non-LGBTQIA teens. It is important to listen to your child’s worries, empathize with them, share and just be there for them when they need you. Parents need to understand that LGBTQIA teens often find it very stressful to share their sexual orientation in the first place. Allowing access to LGBTQIA friends, events and resources can also be helpful.
- Learn about sexual orientation and gender identity. Make sure to learn all language and correct terminology so you can communicate effectively about sexual orientation and gender identity and know the difference between the two. Sexual orientation refers to a person’s preference of emotional, romantic or sexual attraction, and gender identity refers to one’s private sense of gender.
- Encourage status awareness. LGBTQIA teens who were rejected by their families were more than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted infections. As a parent, you and your teen should recognize the importance of routine HIV testing, status awareness and maintain a continued focus on HIV prevention and treatment efforts. Your teen wants to feel supported and encouraged, so teach them to value and care about themselves by getting tested.
- Look online. Seek out resources that connect people with support and materials on these topics. Parents can access online information to learn more about how they can support their LGBTQIA teen.
- Talk to your LGBTQIA teen before coming out on their behalf. First and foremost, it is important to be respectful of your teen and understand that they may need time before telling the rest of their family and friends. Allow them to come out when they’re comfortable but assure them that their LGBTQIA identity doesn’t have to be a secret in the family and they can talk about it with others when they’re ready.
- Admire your LGBTQIA teen for discussing this with you. Remember that it was a big step for your teen to come to you in the first place. Encourage your teen to continue to talk to you about any concerns they may have in the future, no matter what it is.
- Reach out for support. Find out if your teen’s school offers any appropriate services or educational groups that may be supportive. Be mindful of what your teen wants, remember to ask before you talk to anyone else.
ACCESS recommends being proactive about your family’s mental and sexual health, as well as their general well-being. We offer a wide range of behavioral health services and programs to help individuals live the best life possible, as well as HIV testing, counseling and referrals. The 2017 National Transgender HIV Testing Day (NTHTD) is observed on April 18th, and this could be a great time to encourage status awareness and testing for your teen.
If you have any concerns or further questions about how to best support your LGBTQIA teen, schedule an appointment with your care provider today. Contact ACCESS to schedule an appointment at a location near you.