Communication is Essential
Taking the time to have conversations about tough or uncomfortable subjects with your teen can go a long way to helping them stay safe, happy, and healthy beyond their teenage years. Creating an environment of open communication is an ongoing challenge for any parent, but for parents of LGBTQ teens, there are extra topics to cover when it comes to personal safety, relationships, and carving out their own path in the world. Having conversations about serious, scary, or uncomfortable topics might feel intimidating, but your teen is counting on you to get them started.
If your teen identifies as LGBTQ, there are three specific topics we think you need to talk to them about:
- Safe sex.
- Coming out.
- Your support.
With a few good resources, a little courage, and a dash of persistence, you can start these three crucial conversations.
1. Safe Sex is for LGBTQ Teens, Too
LGBTQ teens are at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and intimate partner violence in many of the same ways as their straight or gender-conforming classmates.
There are some persistent – and false – myths about LGBTQ sex and relationships that you can help teens learn about. First, it’s important to refute the idea lesbian women can’t get certain STIs. They can, and in some case, do. Next, it’s critical to dispel the idea that abuse doesn’t happen in LGBTQ relationships. It can, and in some cases, does. The truth is that setting personal boundaries and practicing clear consent are as important in LGBTQ relationships as they are in straight relationships.
Preventing pregnancy and STIs with condoms and dental dams applies to LGBTQ people. Talking about the specific issues that come up around sex for LGBTQ people enables your teen to make well-informed, fact-based decisions. It also shows them that differences between their life and yours don’t mean you can’t talk to each other.
Look at any differences as opportunities to connect and gain a deeper understanding of what they’re going through.
With regards to sex, pregnancy, and STIs, prevention is just the first part of the conversation. As a parent you can help your teen know when to reach out for help and where to find it. Take time to identify resources your teen can use if something goes wrong. For instance, review with them which family members and friends they can call when they need help or support. Together, find out which organizations provide support or assistance for specific LGBTQ issues. Identifying who your teen can go to for help can be the hardest step in getting the help they need.
They may need your help and guidance with this. Knowing where and to whom they can turn to in times of need can empower teens and parents. If and when scary situations or emergencies arise, parents and teens can rest assured that safe, secure, and appropriate contingencies are in place ahead of time.
2. Who Do They Want to be Out To?
Coming out can be a lifelong process. People who have been out to their family and friends for years might face a fresh coming out conversation when they start a new job, move to a new town, or meet someone who doesn’t know anything about them. Whether someone comes out, and when they do it, is something that should be up to that person alone. If your teen has come out to you, don’t assume that they have come out to anyone else, or even that they plan to.
If and when your teen comes out to you, don’t wait: take the time to learn about their feelings about how widely they want their identity to be known. Learn from them how visible they want to be as a member of the LGBTQ community. Assure them you aren’t treating their gender or sexual identity as a secret, but that you do understand that what they’ve told you is personal and private information. Ask them how they would like you to treat that information. Is it okay to share with co-workers? Other family members? Your teen might appreciate some help telling another relative how they identify. Or they might not be ready for that relative to know anything just yet. They might love it if you put a picture of them and their prom date on your desk at work, or they might feel like it’s nobody’s business but theirs.
Help your teen work out their boundaries, and then do your best to respect those boundaries.
3. You’ve Got Their Back
Despite the progress that LGBTQ people have made toward achieving equality and safety, your teen may experience rejection, harassment, or worse – just for being who they are. The good news is that LGBTQ teens with supportive families experience mental health issues, substance use, and homelessness at lower rates than peers in non-supportive homes. You can’t protect them from everything, but you can assure them that you love them and support them unconditionally – always.
Remind them they can come to you for help with anything. Affirm that they deserve a life full of joy. Reassure them they can have the love they want.
Parents can be among the strongest, closest allies for LGBTQ teens. A good ally doesn’t just respond when someone comes to them for support, however. Allyship is about proactively expressing support for LGBTQ people. Check out this guide on how to be a good ally, and consider connecting with other parents of LGBTQ kids and teens through an organization like PFLAG. When you learn about LGBTQ history and the issues that still need to be addressed today, you show your teen you care about who they are and you’re taking steps to make the world safer and more welcoming for them.
Keep the Conversation Going
Conversations like these aren’t one-time things.
Teens need to be reminded that they have your support, that they deserve to be safe and happy in their relationships, and that they’re in charge of when and how they share their gender and sexual identities with others. If you’ve never had conversations on these topics, they may be challenging. In most cases, however, discussing uncomfortable topics gets easier with practice. Start the conversations, be willing to listen and learn, and you’ll help your teen stay strong, safe, and happy.