7 Ways to Support Your Teen as They Understand Their Sexual Identity

Young people today are more comfortable to come out as queer than previous generations but the process of exploring one's sexual identity can be a source of stress and confusion for many teenagers. 

Being open about one's sexual orientation can be scary and challenging, especially if a teenager feels they might be misunderstood or encounter resistance to their feelings from those closest to them.

As parents, supporting a teenager who is exploring their sexual identity requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to listen - without judgment. These seven tips will help provide guidance to parents of teens who are navigating this journey.

1.  Lead with Care and Support

Whether your teenager identifies as heterosexual, LGBTQ+, or is still questioning, it's important to make sure that they know you care about them and accept them for who they are - inclusive of their sexual identity. Using affirming language, listening to their thoughts and feelings, and reassuring them that you love them is key. 

We all know the world changes for each generation and your child will be experiencing life in different ways to you. Personal experiences are important and as parents we often use ours to help and advise our children, but it's worth considering when and where to use these to ensure you're also able to give them the space and the emotional support to explore who they are.

2. Educate Yourself

As your child explores their sexual identity, you can help provide support by learning about LGBTQ+ issues, including discrimination, mental health challenges, and the emotional impact of coming out. This will better equip you to support your child and to understand their journey. You can consult with trusted resources like The Proud Trust, The Be You Project or NELFT NHS to understand how to be a better ally and to learn from others within and surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.

It's important that you understand queer history too. Understanding the history will help better equip you for understanding how to stand up for their rights in the face of injustice and bigotry.

3. Consider Professional Help

Your teenager may ask for additional support. It may help to enable them navigate their feelings by speaking to a therapist or counsellor with specialist LGBTQ+ expertise. Research has shown that LGBTQ+ youth who have supportive adults in their lives, such as parents, therapists or teachers, report higher self-esteem, less depression, and a higher state of overall wellbeing. 

4. Create a Safe Environment

As a parent, you can't fully protect your child's mental, emotional and physical wellbeing out in the world, but you can do your best to provide a supportive, loving, welcoming, accepting and inclusive home. This will help provide the foundations for your teen to explore who they are and make sense of the world around them. 

5. Use Inclusive Language

The language you use is powerful and can have a profound impact on those around you, especially your children. You may want to challenge your own learned behaviour and question if you have subconscious biases in this area. Try to avoid expressions or assumptions that can reinforce heteronormative ideals or exclude LGBTQ+ experiences and instead use inclusive language when talking about dating, sexuality, love, and relationships. This can help your teen feel acknowledged and accepted.  

6. Connect with LGBTQ+ Communities

If your teen is exploring LGBTQ+, you can suggest they connect with local LGBTQ+ groups or organisations . These networks can provide emotional support, resources, and opportunities for community building and advocacy. These groups can be empowering and help young people to feel less alone and/or confused. Has your child been to pride? This can be a perfect way for them to see representation celebrated in so many ways.  Pride events almost always include age appropriate and family friendly spaces.

7. Practise Patience and Non-Judgment

Regardless of your own personal experience with sexual identity, remember that for some, it can be a complex or fluid process. For many teenagers, it's normal to have doubts, questions, or fears and today this holds true more than ever. Try to be patient, respectful, and non-judgmental as your teen navigates this journey. This includes if your child changes their mind on how they identify, as this is an exploration for them. They need to feel safe to decide what it means for them.

Supporting a teenager with their sexual identity requires an open mind, a compassionate heart, and a willingness to learn. By creating a safe and affirming environment, enabling them to seek external help and advice if they request it, and being a supportive presence in your teen's life, you can make the biggest difference in their journey towards self-discovery and self-acceptance.