If your child has recently come out to you as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you might be confronted with many emotions. You might be surprised and feel taken aback that you did not know about this aspect of your child’s life. It’s possible that you suspected your child was LGBTQ+, but you never knew whether to discuss it with them. Perhaps you feel skeptical and wonder whether your child truly understands their identity or if it’s merely a “phase.” You are likely worried about your child being bullied or ostracized.
When your child comes out to you, it is an important moment for both of you. For your child, this was most likely a difficult thing to do. They probably feared rejection from one of the most important people in their life, which would be devastating. It is an important moment for you because it is new information to process and act on. These feelings are natural, and you are not alone in wondering what the right course of action is.
The most important thing to keep in mind is how challenging this time is for your child. Coming out is a big step in defining their identity and can impact how they view their identity. It could change the way others look at them. If it goes well, they might feel liberated and comfortable. Alternatively, they may feel rejected and even more isolated if it goes poorly. One of their greatest concerns will be how you react to this news.
Rejection is difficult for any child, but it can be especially harmful to LGBTQ+ youth. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), when surveyed in 2019, 86% of LGBTQ+ students reported that they faced harassment or bullying. So much of a young person’s time is spent at school, and when this time is spent being ostracized and harassed based on immutable characteristics, school can become a place to fear and dread. Many LGBTQ+ youth do not feel much safer at home. NAMI also reports that a survey from 2022 revealed that less than 40% of LGBTQ+ youth felt that their home environment was accepting of their identity.
The process of coming out involves facing these risks, and it takes a tremendous amount of courage. If your child is sharing this with you, it is important to listen. LGBTQ+ individuals face mental health issues at a greater rate than the rest of the population. This does not mean your child is automatically going to develop a mental illness or substance use disorder (SUD), but that risk is present. Positive relationships can help someone endure the most painful experiences. Supporting your child can provide them with resiliency factors.
If your child has come out to you, you probably won’t have the perfect response. There are always things you might wish you said or didn’t say. The important thing to remember is that conveying your love and acceptance for your child comes above all else. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as you can communicate that primary message. Your child wants to know that you still love and care for them even once you know about their identity. They want to know that they can be loved just how they are and without pretending to be someone else.
You might be tempted to persuade your child that they are going through a phase. Perhaps you are remembering a phase you went through and feel confident that this is what is occurring. This might help you feel better about the situation if you are concerned about how being LGBTQ+ will affect your child’s life. Taking this approach, however, can make your child feel unheard or disregarded. While you may not feel like you are rejecting them, hearing that something so important and life-changing is merely a trend can be extremely disheartening.
Identity labels change throughout life as you learn more about yourself. This is true for sexual orientation and gender expression as well as a plethora of other aspects of your personality. Likely, your child is still figuring themselves out. You might even be figuring out your own identities. Maybe this isn’t their end destination, and they will continue to discover things about their identity. It is still important to commit to going on that journey with them and not write it off. This moment is an opportunity to show them that you will accept them no matter what.
You might have many questions for your child. Typically, this isn’t the time for all of those questions. It is likely your child used a great deal of their courage and energy to confide in you. They may not be ready to disclose more right away. Continuing to have this conversation over time can help you learn more about your child’s identity and needs. Sometimes the best way to have these conversations is to discuss any other topic though. If you continue to show interest in other areas of their life, such as school or extracurriculars, it will be easier for them to share more about their LGBTQ+ identity naturally.
As previously discussed, LGBTQ+ youth struggle more with their mental health. It is important to be mindful of that during this time. Your child may be coming out to others at school, which can open them up to bullying. Creating a safe environment at home can help mitigate some of these effects. Furthermore, seeking professional mental health help if you begin noticing signs of depression or anxiety can offer additional support. Being proactive about your child’s mental health can help them now and in the future.
If your child has come out to you as LGBTQ+, they are entrusting you with a large piece of their identity. It was most likely a difficult decision for them to come to about whether to disclose that information to you, and the way you respond can have a significant effect. You might be concerned about their well-being, especially as they interact with peers at school. During this vulnerable time, it is crucial to be aware of their mental health. Sage Recovery is here to help you and your child navigate this time. We offer in-person and online counseling to adults and teenagers. Our IOP program can support your child. Call us at (512) 306-1394 today.