It’s hard enough to talk to our kids about sex and gender. Sexual or gender identity? Gulp.
Whatever your family’s situation, you’re not alone — even if the internet makes you feel that way.
“There’s a dearth of information for people who are guiding queer youth. Parents tell me they feel both alienated and like they are reinventing their own wheel as they search for help,” says Jo Langford, a Seattle-based sex educator and therapist for tweens, teens and parents.
Langford is also the author of a new book “The Pride Guide: The Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Teens.” Out June 9, the book serves as a reference for LGBTQ identifying individuals, ages 12 to 22, and includes a section written specifically for parents and other adults.
Langford gave ParentMap a sneak peak at “The Pride Guide,” focusing on how parents and caregivers can best support LGBTQ tweens and teens.
What’s the right response when your child shares something personal about their sexual and/or gender identity? For example, when they come out or request different gender pronouns?
A hug and a thank you.
Then ask, ‘What do you need from me?’ or ‘How can I help?’ Those are the first three things that should happen. If a kid living at home has the ego strength to come out, let them know you appreciate their bravery and integrity. LTBTQ youth need love, support and information.
After the initial positive response, how do you continue to offer them support?
The two biggest mistakes parents make are never talking about it again or talking about it too much. As usual, health lies somewhere in the middle. Use current events both in media and their lives to touch lightly and regularly on the topic, like ‘The school dance is coming up. Who are you thinking of going with?’
Also, check in with them before events. Say that they’re going to a family wedding or a sports competition. Be casual, but check in: ‘What bathroom are you going to use?’
If they’re thinking of coming out to family or friends in upcoming situations, ask them if they’re anticipating any rough spots and what they need from you.
How do you help your child navigate the minefield that might come with telling extended family?
When your kid is ready to be known in that way, your job is to be a translator for and shield from relatives who might not know how to react well.
If necessary, educate family and give them specific direction beforehand. Prep Grandpa if he doesn’t quite understand the difference between sex and gender. If phobic Aunt So-and-So is visiting, have a chat with her ahead of time about ground rules.
Let your kid lead the charge; you provide the cover.
How do we keep our LTBTQ teens safe in a world that isn’t always a safe place for them?
Be really honest with them. Tell them: ‘I want you to be aware that there are people out there who want to do you harm. Some of that harm is going to be silent with their judgment. Some is going to be with their words and some is going to be with their hands.’
Let them know to walk with confidence with their eyes open while listening to their gut instincts. Stay in groups because there is safety in numbers. And if they don’t feel safe, find an adult who seems safe while moving to a space that feels safer.
How do you make room for their grief about people and places that aren’t safe for LTBTQ people?
Just be in it with them.
Queer kids understand [that] they are not going to be accepted everywhere. Just let them know that you know that that it sucks, that there’s no avoiding the suckiness and you accept them and will be there with them.
Adversity is not necessarily a terrible thing for kids; they will survive if that adversity is not coming from their parents. Parents who don’t support their LTBTQ kids double their chances of self-harm, dropping out of school, running away, suicide attempts, drug usage — all that stuff!
If parents are supportive, they can grow stronger from adverse situations. Yes, it sucks that we can’t always protect them, but we can help them survive and grow stronger.
Where can parents get more support?
I always send my LTBTQ teen clients and their parents to the website Scarleteen.org, an amazing resource that includes information along with content written by content written by LGBTQ kids. The website was actually created by Heather Corinna, an educator and activist who lives on Vashon Island.