Freedom to Be.
Written by guest blogger Camile Walker, LCSW & Case Manager Keisha Smith, MSW, CADC
While it’s probably safe to say that most parents want their children to feel loved, happy, and supported, the fact remains that this has become an increasingly difficult task for many kids today! Youth in this day and age are facing so many pressures; high expectations, virtual learning, social isolation, cyber bullying, and so many other new and unique challenges as compared to when we were their age. Oftentimes we are quick to dismiss their experiences and compare them to our own, rather than seizing the moment to connect with our children. We say things like, “Well I remember when I was in school, I once had a 30-page paper to write and I had to walk 10 miles to the library, use an encyclopedia, and then handwrite the whole thing. You have no reason to complain, this is nothing.” when what they really need to hear is “Wow, it must be hard to figure out some of this work without a teacher here to help you” or “I know all of these changes have been hard on you, I think a lot of people actually feel the same.”
The reason why sharing this is so important is because when I was a kid, the two things I wanted most were to fit in and to feel supported. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have family and friends who supported me in pursuing all of my different interests like dance, sports, music, and travel. I was given independence, but I was also given the structure I needed to be able to eventually develop into the person I am today. Unfortunately, there is a group of youth who are not always provided the same freedom. The LGBTQIA+ youth population is constantly questioned about whether their desires, experiences, and beliefs are real or genuine. They hear things like, “How could you possibly know what you are? You’re too young.” forgetting that most people experience their first crush as early as Kindergarten.
Of course, for many parents these thoughts and feelings really come from the fear of the unknown and a desire for our children to be safe. Unfortunately, it has been shown that denying your child’s wishes to grow up and experience life in the way that helps them feel most whole could actually have the opposite effect and place them in harm’s way. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention completed a national youth risk survey in 2015, which noted that “nearly one-third of LGBT students had attempted suicide at least once in the prior year compared to their heterosexual peers. They also expressed a higher level of anxiety, depression, substance use, and risky sexual behaviors”. In short, these kids are more likely to struggle with dangerous behaviors because of the emotional damage that comes from constantly feeling like they need to hide major parts of themselves, and their experiences from their family and friends in order to continue to be loved and accepted.
Let’s combat this problem by promoting positive health, safety, and freedom to discover one’s self with the support and guidance of adults. Here are three simple suggestions to help your LGBTQIA+ adolescent feel supported.
Show your love.
LGBTQIA+ youth are often terrified to tell their parents because they are afraid to lose their love or that they will be rejected. You may not have all of the answers, and in many cases it’s normal to feel like you don’t understand, but remember, you don’t need to be an LGBTQIA+ expert to care and show your love. Start today by telling your child some of the things you love about them!
Get them talking!
Getting a teenager to talk can feel impossible on even the best day! Try to encourage open dialogue by asking about their day, friends, and interests. If you continue to do this regularly, your child will likely become more comfortable opening up about deeper subjects as time passes. Don’t get discouraged! Things may be rocky in the beginning, but your kids do want to talk to you about what is going on in their lives, sometimes all it takes is patience and persistence.
Remember some simple facts.
Things are not always simple in life. Your child’s identity is not just a phase. This is not something that you need to fix. There is no one to blame. Feel proud of the beautiful child you’ve raised and celebrate who they are becoming.
LGBTQ+ youth and caregivers who are looking for more information, resources, or support can check out some of the links below:
PFLAG: “Our mission is to build on a foundation of loving families united with LGBTQ people and allies who support one another, and to educate ourselves and our communities to speak up as advocates until all hearts and minds respect, value, and affirm LGBTQ people.” www.pflag.org
The Trevor Project: “The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.” https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/
It Gets Better Project: “The It Gets Better Project’s mission is to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) youth around the globe.” https://itgetsbetter.org/
Q Chat Space: “Q Chat Space is a digital LGBTQ+ center where teens join live-chat, professionally facilitated, online support groups. Also available in Spanish (disponible en español).” https://www.qchatspace.org/
Gay Straight Alliance: “GSA’s are student-run organizations that unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth to build community and organize around issues impacting them in their schools and communities.” www.gsanetwork.org
GLSEN: “GLSEN works to ensure that LGBTQ students are able to learn and grow in a school environment free from bullying and harassment.” www.glsen.org
Safe Schools Coalition: “A public-private partnership, in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, queer and questioning youth, working to help schools become safe places where every family can belong, where every educator can teach, and where every child can learn, regardless of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” www.safesocialcoalition.org
GLAAD: “Tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change.” www.glaad.org