By: Angela Sanders, LPC
Fear. Anger. Confusion. Disbelief.
These are just some of the feelings that both a parent and child may experience when identifying as something other than heterosexual or the gender they were assigned at birth. Many children and teens worry about being rejected by their parents, friends, teachers and spiritual leaders. Depression and anxiety run rampant among Native youth who identify as part of the LGBTQ2S+ community. They are highly vulnerable to thoughts of self-harm and suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and are more likely to end up homeless. They are also more likely to skip school or drop out altogether if they feel unsafe, bullied or harassed. According to the Trevor Project, one person between the ages of 13 and 24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds. Those who are transgender or two-spirit have the highest risk of suicide.
LGBTQ2S+ youth who are rejected by family and other youth are:
- Eight times more likely to attempt suicide
- Six times more likely to report feelings of depression
- Three times more likely to have a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Forty times more likely to be homeless
What do you do if a child, teen or young adult comes out to you?
Having one adult who is accepting and able to listen to them can reduce the risk of suicide by 40%. When families and friends accept them as they are and provide a supportive environment, it can reduce mental health related problems by 60%, according to the Trevor Project.
First, listen and lead with love. Ask open ended questions like how was your day? Let them lead the conversation. Try not to rush or force them to open up before they are ready. This is often as difficult for them as it is for you.
Second, seek family counseling, if needed. As caregivers, it’s normal to imagine what your child’s future will be like; the person they might share their life with, the career they might have and more. When they come out, the way you view your child might change, especially if they identify as a gender not assigned at birth. It’s important to recognize your emotions and seek out help if you are struggling.
Third, be supportive. This can be done in a variety of ways, including researching more information about their identity. At the end of this article there are resources listed that can be utilized. Other ways of supporting your child include: watch age appropriate shows or movies featuring members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, be open to the idea of your child attending a Pride Parade and find a local LGBTQ2S+ youth group or start one yourself.
When to Seek Professional Help
It’s important to recognize that you as a caregiver may need counseling to sort through various feelings and discomfort regarding your child’s sexual or gender identity. This might be especially true if your own religious, spiritual or political views do not support the way in which your child identifies.
Seek immediate counseling for your child if they are experiencing depression, severe anxiety or thoughts of self-harm. You might also consider counseling if they do not have a supportive environment or are still struggling with how they identify themselves.