By Jessica Ennis for UCHealth
Growing up is hard enough and if your child identifies as LGBTQ – which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer – they’ll likely experience their own unique set of challenges. But LGBTQ youth need what every kid needs – unwavering parental and familial support. In other words, it’s important your child knows you’re in their corner no matter what.
“Tell your child you’re there for them, you love them and want what’s best for them, and celebrate them for all they are,” says Dr.Janis Sethness, who practices internal medicine and pediatrics at UCHealth Primary Care – Yosemite in Lone Tree. “Embrace your child’s sense of self and don’t dismiss your child as going through a phase.”
LGBTQ youth with parental support typically have greater self-esteem and a better health status – meaning less depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation – all of which come at higher risk for the LGBTQ community.
Even though it can be challenging and sometimes uncomfortable keeping the lines of communication open, supporting your LGBTQ child requires regular conversation. Sethness says by encouraging an open dialogue with your child every day, you’ll increase the chances they’ll come to you when an issue arises.
But don’t force the subject, she says. Sometimes just watching shows or movies with your child featuring LGBTQ people could spark an opening for a conversation.
Encourage a safe and healthy school environment
Clubs and organizations
With summer coming to an end, your child (or even you) may be feeling a bit nervous about the upcoming school year. Look into what LGBT clubs or organizations are offered at your child’s school. For example, many schools have a Gay Straight Alliance, which have been shown to help LGBTQ youth who participate have a more positive school experience and even decrease their psychological stress. If your school doesn’t yet have any student organizations to support LGBTQ students, Sethness encourages parents to be a voice inspiring schools to start one.
Counselors and the classroom
Sethness says it may also be helpful to reach out to your school’s counselor to help provide support for your child. Many counselors receive training on LGBTQ issues. If your counselor has not received additional training, ask the school to provide it.
Understanding your child’s social life, online and off
Sethness says some parents have fears around social media and may want to prohibit or limit their child’s use of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Some LGBTQ youth may not feel like they’ve formed meaningful connections in school or in their peer group, and social media can provide a supportive network for them.
“Obviously, social media needs to be done in a safe way, and you should still monitor their accounts and what they are doing online if you have any concerns,” Sethness says.
Many parents of LGBTQ students fear their child will be a target for bullying. Be mindful of any major behavior changes at home, new discipline problems at school, declining or changing grades, unexpected absences from school, withdrawal from their regular friend group, or if you have any concerns about substance abuse or risky behaviors.
While it’s important to watch for red flags, take care not to confuse a few instances of these behaviors as something more than the regular ups and downs of being a young person.
Factoring in your child’s physical health
It can helpful for your child to be seen by a medical provider that is familiar with LGBTQ issues. Having a pediatrician who has experience with LGBTQ kids can be a great resource because they can help facilitate important health discussions, Sethness says.
“I think historically, LGBTQ youth have been underserved in the medical community. You may come across providers who do care for these patients but don’t always ask the right questions,” she says. “We try to manage some of the risk factors related to substance use, sex, and general safety issues. We can be there for teens if they aren’t comfortable talking to their parents.”
Filling your own bucket
The role of parenting a LGBTQ child may be completely uncharted territory for you. It’s ok if you don’t know all the answers or what lies ahead for your child. There are a number of organizations, including PFLAG, offering support groups for parents and caregivers of LGBT youth.
“Parents don’t have to feel like they’re doing this alone,” Sethness says. “It’s important for parents to have a safe place where they can broach questions or share their concerns. Know your own limitations and ask for help when you they need it.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Sethness, call 303-265-3970 or visit https://www.uchealth.org/locations/uchealth-primary-care-clinic-yosemite/ for more information.