Young people today are more comfortable to identify 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.