Oct 10 • TEKU

Love, acceptance and health: Supporting LGBTQ+ youth through family mental health and empowerment

As we celebrate Coming Out day this October, we must acknowledge the importance of love and acceptance to LGBTQ+ youth mental health and overall wellbeing.
As we celebrate Coming Out day this October, we must acknowledge and create change to promote the importance of love and acceptance to LGBTQ+ youth mental health and overall wellbeing.  Family support and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity in youth is a well-documented protective factor against conditions such as depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, while family and community rejection increases the risk of these conditions.  

Our opinions matter to children - they can impact self-esteem, influencing their relationship with themselves and others.  In more severe cases, rejection can not only impair a young person’s ability to love themselves, but can rupture a family relationship.  Rejection can show up in many different ways that are less obvious than simply stating “I don’t accept you.” Rejection can be not letting your child bring her significant other to family events because of fear of what others may think. It may be blaming a child if she is discriminated against because of her identity instead of standing up for them, for example telling them they shouldn’t wear non-gender conforming clothes if they don’t want people to make fun of them. It can show up as expectations of how your child should dress or act. These are behaviors that we might not think are damaging but in reality can cause a lot of pain to a young person. They can also increase the risk for health and mental health problems. 

According to data summarized by the Family Acceptance Project, highly rejected young people are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs and more than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and other STDs. 

One of the most important jobs we have as parents and caregivers is to protect our children from foreseeable and preventable harms.  In the case of LGBTQ+ youth, protecting them translates to learning how to accept and support their development.  Parents struggle to navigate cultural, religious and family ideas, values and behaviors that may have previously prevented them from accepting differences in gender and sexuality.  Changing these dynamics can be complex, take time and require a strong commitment to love and growth.  Seeking support from an empowering community can help our own identity development as parents of gender and sexually diverse youth.

We know that LGBTQ+ youth can do well with loving, accepting and supporting homes and environments.

According to Samatha King, social worker and Manager of Education Initiatives at the Gender & Sexuality Development Program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “When LGBTQ youth are supported by their family, the risk for suicide drops by half! When we add in institutional support– such as finding affirming spaces at school, medical facilities, mental health practices, and community organizations– this risk falls to the national average, which is about 4%.”

Additionally, family acceptance supports youth’s ability to see their future selves living a happy life and supports their confidence in being parents.  Positive, accepting behaviors may include having conversations with your child about their identity, expressing affection when your child speaks to you about these things, advocating for your child, asking family members to respect your child, welcoming your child’s LGBT friends and/or partners into your home and more. Beyond tolerance, you want to foster a safe and nurturing environment where your child can thrive authentically. 

Most importantly, we need to show our children we love them unconditionally. Our love is not just spoken but shown through our actions.  As parents work to accept and show love to their children, their demeanor might suggest otherwise. Children are smart and perceptive; they pick up on our fears, hesitancy and insecurities. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your child about your current difficulties as you navigate this process and let them know how you are actively working through it.  Love is felt through our vulnerability, openness and honesty.

At Teku, we empower brave families centering their children’s health.  An upcoming course and community will support families navigating gender and sexuality differences to promote family love, connection and compassion, ultimately fostering self-love, health and empowerment for LGBTQ+ youth.  Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when it launches! 

If your family is navigating these conversations, we are here to support you!  Reach out to us at info@jointeku.com. We will be happy to provide you with guidance, additional resources and tools you may be interested in. 
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