For all the advances in the landscape of LGBTQ rights, LGBTQ youth face particular challenges. According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are significantly more likely to have suicidal thoughts — or even attempted suicide — compared with their heterosexual, cisgender peers. Receiving family support goes a long way in improving a child’s health outcomes: Studies show that LGBTQ adults who face family rejection experience higher rates of substance abuse, mental illness and suicide attempts.
Fortunately, caregivers, parents and families of LGBTQ teens and children can make a huge difference in their child’s life — and health outcomes — by supporting them with an open mind, and advocating on their behalf as necessary.
When we see our kids struggle, sometimes we just want to leap into action.
Whether you’re trying to deal with teachers or family members who struggle (or refuse) to use the preferred pronouns of a non-binary or transgender child, want to provide a space to talk about gender identity or sexual orientation, or need to address in-school bullying, the most important thing is to find out how your child feels first. That kind of supportive foundation will be essential as your child’s identity evolves over their adolescence.
Find out what they need before taking action. Sometimes you might need to support them in strategizing how to handle a situation on their own; other times, you might need to serve as a liaison. (For additional support, see our list of national resources below.)
If your child is telling you that they don’t feel safe at school — a rather common experience, as we discuss — it’s worth starting by talking with teachers and administrators. But if the issue feels more systemic than solvable, you might consider looking for other schooling options that are better equipped to support LGBTQ youth.
When families bump up against the limits of local options, they might need to think out of the box to find a supportive environment. Homeschooling is an option whose pros and cons shift slightly when considering the needs of LGBTQ individuals.
In terms of advantages, home-based learning gives kids certain freedoms. Kids can choose to either be open about their gender identity, or not, in a way that is much harder to do in a physical environment. They can be more deliberate about their gender expression, choosing how much of their body to present on camera — and if they decide to transition, they have more control over how and when they share that information. By the same token, some of the more overt indicators of gender identity — like which bathroom to use — do not exist when attending class remotely.
Another advantage of home-based learning through an online school like Prisma is diversity: because they bring together kids from all different parts of the US, there's a larger pool of kids, making it easier for kids to find a community of like minded peers.
Finally, another benefit of a non-traditional school is the flexibility it affords for kids to pursue other interests. But even if your child is enrolled in traditional school, consider extracurriculars that allow them to interact with diverse kids and explore the many facets of their identity, whether its arts, nature or athletics.
But keep in mind: not all online schools are community-centered like Prisma. Sending a kid who’s feeling socially isolated to an online school where there's not a strong community, or homeschooling without a strong plan for socialization, might make them feel more isolated.
One of the best ways a parent can support a child’s mental health is by helping them create a diverse, resilient network that includes teachers, coaches, role models / mentors, and health care providers.
At Prisma, we use a one-on-one coaching model in order connect every learner with an adult who gets to know them, understand their needs and help build their confidence. That kind of individual attention builds trust, allowing kids to open up to the coach. And the knowledge that they have an adult who believes in them, hears and understands them, and is completely accepting of them builds self-esteem. Then, in the event of any crisis (or even slight misunderstanding), there’s a clear channel of communication open that allows the learner to feel safe in sharing.
For more on how to support your LGBTQ child, here are some of the top national resources for the LGBTQ community and their loved ones:
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