We now have research through the Family Acceptance Project that lets us know that teens who are rejected by family members due to their sexual orientation or gender identities are at a much higher rate of suicidal risk than their peers. It is imperative that we gather good information and resources to help us as parents when facing the often difficult task of knowing how to respond to a child who is coming out as LGBT+. Here are a few ideas:
Offering support and normalization is the #1 thing parents can do for coming out teens. A simple "regardless of what you are experiencing, I/we love you" and "you're not the only one struggling with these types of issues" can be two very affirming statements that does not require any shift in belief or value system.
Coming out is a process as is figuring out one’s identity and sexual orientation. Allowing your child the time they need to figure things out and following their lead are great strategies.
Focusing on spirituality as more than just religious duty can be a helpful focus for those committed to a religious tradition. Many times our teens see a large part of their worthiness through a sexual lens. Helping them understand that there are many ways one can dedicate their life to God or righteous living, regardless of sexual orientation or sexual choices, can be helpful and liberating. Service, charity, integrity, education, love and spiritual practice can all be sought after regardless of sexual orientation.
Be mindful about your possible tendencies to project your own fear and anxiety on to your child... but also be kind to yourself. It is normal to be afraid or overwhelmed when your child is coming out.
5. If you are active in a church community, role model the ability to be active members while not always agreeing with possible harmful messages they may hear there. It can be really helpful for a teen to hear a conversation where one can say: “I really love our Church, it does so much good and has had such a positive impact in my life. At the same time I want you to know that I do not agree with some of things said about homosexual people. I think there is still a lot that will change or understand better as time goes on. What do you think?”
6. Teach overall relational success and comprehensive sexual education: importance of getting to know somebody, importance of sexual attraction, importance of self-protection, importance of emotional connection, etc. Regardless of who your child is dating or interested in, we should be talking about these types of concepts.
7. See if they would be open to getting some professional services or joining a support group for teens. Do they have access to a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) club in their high school? Both gay and straight students attend these meetings and good information and support are usually forthcoming.
What types of strategies have those of you who have had a teen come out found helpful in your situations?
Family Acceptance Project
SAMHSA report against conversion therapy
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST has been in practice as a mental health professional for over 20 years, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, and sexuality. She writes a blog called "The Mormon Therapist," and hosts the podcasts "Mormon Mental Health," and "Mormon Sex Info."