Supporting Teens Who Identify as LGBT: Tips for Parents
I know this is a hot button topic as there are strongly held beliefs around this topic. I've been fielding several phone calls from parents who are seeking a teen therapist as their teen has disclosed to them that they are gay, lesbian, or transgender.
They report their teen experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or other struggles. They also identify their own struggles as parents and are looking for answers. Parents also call looking for a family therapist who can help them with this complex issue.
Teens struggling with sexual or gender identity need support more than ever. There is a high stigma in society that will stack the deck against a teen struggling with these complex matters.
Parents are also often caught off guard and are looking for help and support. They love their teen but may have not face this particular challenge before.
Sexual or gender identity struggles also create increased risk factors for teens. Teens are in a stage of rapid development and do not have the life experience adults do. Their brains may think on more adult levels without the life experience to make meaning of life experiences.
Teen Developmental Stage
The teen years are years full of experimentation. The teen's brain is on fire with rapid myelination and brain development. There may not be a time in life where the brain is in such a state of rapid growth.
Analytical thought processes are forming. Ideas about life and the future are blooming. Curiosities about who they are and who they want to be are paths that are being explored. Throw on top of this an increase of hormones surging through the body and it makes for some interesting times.
This is both an exciting and nerve-racking time for both the teen and the parents:
For the Teen
Teens start to experience independence in thought, action, and mobility. They start the process of separation from parents branching out into the social world. It is in this social world where identity formation, values clarification, and a sense of independence are formed.
While this is all very exciting for teens, they also experience a high degree of pressure. Peer pressure can be intense. The pressure to excel academically is ever present. Navigating friendships and romantic relationships can be tricky.
For the Parents
Parents enter the teen years with a mic of anticipation and trepidation. The influence they had with their teens when they were children has lessened. Friends become all important and their influence now carries more weight.
Parents watch closely the peer group that their teen forms knowing that this will be the most important group in their teen's life. If they are positive and goal driven, chances of successfully navigating adolescence increases. If the peer group is not so positive, worry and concern develops.
Parents get to see the talents and strengths of their teens emerge. Academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities consume much of the teen and parent’s life. Watching your teen on stage, on the field, or in competition brings exhilaration to a parent’s heart.
Parents know that there will be ups and downs in the teen years. Parents expect that there will be life lessons taught during this time. What the teen learns from those lessons can help them later in life.
Parents can almost expect the usual life lessons:
The teen experiencing love for the first time
The teen experiencing loss of love and heartache for the first time
Making the team, club, or other extracurricular membership
Not making the team, club, or other extracurricular membership
Watching as the teen's hard work pays off in a given area and watching your teen glow with pride
Watching as the teen's hard work didn't come to fruition and watching the hurt and disappointment that results
Through their own life experience as a teen and later life experience as an adult, parents sorta know what the teen can expect to experience in their young, teen life.
Through our own experience as a teen and later life experience as an adult, we sorta know what the teen can expect to experience in their young, teen life.
When Worlds Collide
Many Judeo-Christian, Muslim, and other religions have very specific thoughts on homosexuality and transgender identity. In these situations, the parents are faced with a serious dilemma. On one hand, they hold strong moral beliefs while the deeply love their teen.
Parents find themselves struggling to know how to support their teen while remaining true to their moral beliefs. This is where much of the conflict between teen and parent begins.
This blog post will not debate the moral balances of either side. The purpose of this blog post is to provide help for parents navigating this complex issue. This blog post is also written with teens in mind. Mental health struggles have increased among our teens. As mental health struggles increase, their health and safety are at risk.
Risk Factors for Teens & LGBT Teens
According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), teen suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death. Research also shows that teens who identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender are 7 times more likely to commit suicide.
Our teens are struggling with very complex mental health struggles. There are pressures around them that are heavy to bear. Parents want more than anything to help their teen but may not know quite how to do so.
Below are suggestions for parents whose teen may approach them confiding in them their struggle with sexual or gender identity.
Be Prepared to Respond, Not React
Teens who are are gay, lesbian, or transgender usually hold in this information until they cannot hold it in any longer. This approach can create teen depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and can lead to suicide.
Teens will often hold this information in and not share it with anyone as they are worried they will be ostracized by their friends. They also are fearful of telling their parents as they do not want to disappoint their parents.
If you are a parent with a strongly held moral belief, it is likely that your teen has grown up in a home teaching this moral belief. This makes it exponentially more difficult as they teen may initially be concerned that they will not be accepted by their parents. Whether this is a rational or irrational fear, it is a fear held by these teens none the less.
As a parent, have you thought about how you would respond to your teen should the confide in you that they are gay, lesbian, or transgender?
One possible response is the knee jerk response. It is true that many teens today find it popular to identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender. It truly may be a phase for many.
Yet, if this is the first response as their parent, how likely will they be to continue to confide in you if it is a genuine struggle?
If your response first conveys love, acceptance, and understanding, your teen will be more likely to continue to draw on you as a support and resource. Responding in this way does not condone the behavior but rather supports the teen with your love. There is a difference.
Role play this response in your mind and practice. This way, if or when your teen does confide in you, you will already know how you will respond.
Convey Love, Acceptance, & Understanding
Teens who struggle with sexual or gender identify are fearful that they will be looked down on by their parents. They are also concerned that their parents will not love them or accept them. Again, whether this fear is rational or irrational, these are the fears that many carry.
It is these fears that cause them to shove these feelings deep down. Doing this can create depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other challenges. Depending on the situation, this can create trauma for the teen. Rates of substance abuse is higher for teens identifying as gay, lesbian, or transgender. All of which increase the risk of teen suicide.
I believe it is safe to say that parents love their teens simply because they are their teens. Parents generally don't have conditions on their love. No matter who our teen is, they are our children and we hold a love for them that they will not understand until they hold their own.
If we are prepared with a response if or when your teen approaches you with this struggle, you will be in a better position to show love to your teen.
There will always be time later to discuss whether this may simply be a phase. There will be time later to ask your questions and get more information.
When a teen approaches you to confide in you, realize that this is a very courageous act on their part. They are acting counter to every fiber of their being shouting at them to not tell you. The fear and anxiety that is created that they have to fight through to tell you is immense.
You can validate your teen's feelings, their thoughts, and their choice to tell you. Validating is simply acknowledging their thoughts and feelings while empathizing with them. It is not agreeing with them but showing them the love and support they need in that moment.
This is a critical point in your relationship with your teen. If you respond with love, acceptance, and understanding, they will likely continue to come to you for support. If you react defensiveness or judgment, they will likely choose to distance themselves from you.
Teen Therapy & Family Counseling
There are different reasons why seeking support from a teen therapist and family counselor would be beneficial. There are reasons this can help the teen and different reasons how this can help the parents.
Is it true that many times the teen's report of identifying as gay, lesbian, or transgender is a phase? Chances are high. But parents shouldn't dismiss this outright as the reasons.
Should they do so, they miss a critical stage where had they reached out for support in the beginning, many of the teen's later emotional or behavioral challenges could have been avoided. The family relationships may have been stronger too.
Teen Therapy for Teen Support
Reaching out for professional support is not for the purpose of finding a therapist to help change your teen's mind. If your teen is gay, lesbian, or transgender, they are in for some challenges in their lives which teen counseling and family therapy can help with.
A teen who is gay, lesbian, or transgender has likely already experienced difficulty and possible trauma. This could be as a result of them holding in these feelings which has created some depression, anxiety, panic, or other struggles. It could also be from bullying.
A teen may have already experienced bullying from their identity. Teens can be mean to each other. It used to be that a teen could come home and escape the bullying. Now, with social media, there is no escape from the bullying.
Teens often have their own inner battel waging as well. They have likely been brought up themselves with specific moral teachings about homosexuality or gender identity. Now they find themselves concerned over the welfare of their soul.
All these are heavy topics for a teen to bear on their own. Having a teen therapist can help them find meaning and learn to manage the intense feelings that can arise. A teen therapist can also help them learn to respond to bullying or other forms of targeting.
Family Therapy for Parent Support
For parents and the family as a whole, family therapy can be very beneficial. This can be a difficult time for parents. Trying to balance their love for their child with their own moral beliefs can be challenging.
Family counseling can help the parents and the teen learn to understand one another's thoughts, feelings, and needs. Family therapy can help the parents meet the teen's needs in healthy and acceptable ways. Family therapy can also help the teen learn to meet the parents needs in healthy and acceptable ways.
Family therapy can also help build trust and improve communication. These two factors alone will be the foundation to build on moving forward long after a teen therapist or family counselor is no longer in the picture.
The Overarching Goal: Strengthening Relationships and Saving Lives
This topic can be challenging. It can create strong feelings no matter what side of the spiritual, religious, or political spectrum one is on. Yet this topic has weighed heavy on my heart.
As a teen therapist and family counselor, I see first hand the suffering of those teens who have held this secret for so long, who may have felt shameful about the secret, and in fact, some believe that they are now 'damned' as a result. All this is extremely heavy emotional loads to carry.
These feelings are what increases the suicide risk factor among teens. As mentioned previously, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among teens not facing these struggles. Add to this statistic the addition of a teen struggling with sexual or gender identity, these teens are 7 times more likely to commit suicide.
My heart has ached after a recent phone call from a mother. She relayed a story of multiple suicides of her daughters friends. This was on top of other phone calls from other parents over the past several months relaying similar stories of friends of their teen committing suicide.
That night as I went home thinking about this phone call, thinking about similar phone calls lately, and coming home to my two teen boys, my heart broke. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about how the loss of life could have been avoided.
Teen therapy works. Family therapy is effective. There are specialists in teen therapy who can help teens through the challenges of their lives. There are specialists in family therapy who can help families navigate these tricky and complex struggles.
Stories of teen suicide are becoming all too common. Teens trying to find a way to live are turning to a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Particularly gay, lesbian, and transgender teens. They have added stressors and pressures that other teens do not have.
There is help. There is hope. There are answers. The hardest step is picking up the phone and calling. After that, we'll walk with you and support you every step of the way toward healing and happiness. Let us help your teen and family.
Suicide Prevention Resources
If you are a teen or young adult who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or plan to commit suicide, there is help. The problems you face may not feel temporary but they are. Don't carry out a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
We have seen teens and families overcome the challenges to go on and lead happy, healthy lives. Give us an opportunity to help.
For immediate help please tell your parents or call 911 immediately.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Substance Abuse and Mental Heath Services Administration
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)
Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Teen Therapy & Family Counseling Specialists in Katy, Tx & Houston
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we specialize in teen therapy, and family counseling. We also provide counseling for young adults (or older teens). We can help your teen, young adults, or family who may be struggling with emotional or behavioral challenges. We can also help teens struggling with sexual or gender identity and the parents and family who love them.
If you have a teen, young adult, or your family is struggling and you are ready to start your counseling journey, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Speak with one of our caring therapists
Start finding your answers that can help restore hope, happiness, and connected family relationships
Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
At our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we use therapy and counseling approaches that are supported by research. These approaches have been shown to work in the shortest amount of time.
In addition to teen therapy, family therapy, and counseling for young adults, we also offer the following therapy and counseling services:
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)