Historically, “coming out” was a process that adults navigated after they moved out of their childhood homes. Resources for teenagers and families were limited and exposure to others who identified as LGBTQ+ was also limited. Over the past 20 years, this has gradually shifted and adolescents are increasingly coming out to their parents and friends at younger ages.
According to the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), the average age at which a person identifies as LGBTQ+ is 13.4 years old and the average age for coming out is now roughly around 14 years old.
People who identify as gender nonconforming or transgender may begin to understand their gender identity as early as two years old. For many kids, parents play an integral role in the coming out process, and what we say and do as parents can be hugely impactful in the lifelong trajectory for our LGBTQ+ children.
LGBTQ young people are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ youth.
Always “Lead with Love”
PFLAG, an organization founded to support parents, families, allies, and individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, uses the phrase “lead with love,” to serve as a guide for parents. When your child initially “comes out,” showing your continued love and support is essential.
Struggling with the news? For many parents, there are deep concerns regarding the potential for stress and discrimination that your child may face. Perhaps you were raised in a faith community that does not condone LGBTQ+ identities. Sometimes there is a sense of grief and loss associated with the life you imagined for your child. These struggles are not unusual, but it is important to find a separate support channel rather than projecting these concerns onto your child. Reach out to a therapist or support organization to help you manage your feelings. Meanwhile, continue to ensure your child that you support and love them, as this is strongly predictive of better outcomes.
Conversion Therapy is Dangerous
However, when it comes to seeking therapy or support, be sure to do your research. Avoid counselors, therapists, or programs that use terms like “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts.” These are forms of conversion therapy, which is NOT a form of traditional therapy. In fact, it’s not therapy at all and can have substantial negative psychological, emotional, and physical effects on your child. Conversion therapy uses a variety of dangerous and manipulative methods to try to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. According to research by the UCLA Williams Institute, 16,000 LBGTQ+ teens will receive some form of conversion therapy before they are 18.
Avoid Family Conflict and Rejection
Family conflict and rejection in response to coming out is associated with increased mental health concerns. LGBTQ+ adolescents who are rejected by their families are three times more likely to abuse substances. They are at higher risks for serious health concerns including depression, anxiety, and HIV. Most concerning, they are eight times more likely to attempt
suicide than their LGBTQ+ peers who were accepted by their families.
Rejecting behaviors can be obvious, such as denying your child’s identity or kicking them out of the home, but there are also more subtle forms of rejection. Asking your child to conceal their identity from others, questioning whether they are sure about their identity, or encouraging them to dress and act in particular ways in public are some examples of subtle forms of rejection. These concerns send the message that we are ambivalent or unsupportive, even if they come from a place of worry.
As hard as it may be for you to learn your child identifies as LGBTQ+, coming out to you may have been terrifying for them. Many children fear that their parents will stop loving them if they come out. By showing affection and reaffirming our love, we can, in one instant, help chart a stable, healthy, and happy life for our children.
In addition to expressing our love and affection, there are other steps that can positively affect outcomes. According to research by Dr. Caitlyn Ryan for PFALG, engaging in open conversation with your child about their identity is important. Ask open-ended questions and provide a space for them to share feelings and thoughts. Identify LGBTQ+ role-models. Seeing successful and happy adults who identify as LGBTQ+ can help your child recognize their potential. Stand up for your children. This may mean challenging family and faith communities that are not supportive or finding new communities that are more accepting.
Finally, it is never too late to do better. If the initial conversation with your child did not go well, take the opportunity to try again to engage in an open and honest conversation. Remember to always lead with love.
Healthcare for Every Person & Identity
Although LGBTQ+ bodies can look and exist in so many different ways, one thing many in LGBTQ+ communities have in common is a lack of access to high-quality healthcare.
Sometimes concerns over whether a provider will simply listen and support you is a big barrier to getting regular care. Unfortunately, many times LGBTQ+ patients experience direct discrimination. At Carbon Health, we stand for healthcare for all, and that includes providing a safe place where the LGTBQ+ community can feel seen and heard. Having a provider who
knows you and your body and can help support you is a game-changer when it comes to your overall health and well-being.
Our team of providers is here for you and all your healthcare needs. Whatever you may be going through, they are here to listen and guide you in a safe and supportive setting. Book an appointment today and one of our primary care providers will be there to help support and guide you every step of the way.