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A Parent’s Role in Navigating LGBTQIA+ Identity Exploration

June 18, 2024

The adolescent and teenage years — typically between the ages of 10 and 19 — are marked by major physical, emotional and psychological changes. For young people who are exploring their sexuality or gender identity, these developmental challenges are magnified and can come with internal conflict.

Rainnier Centeno, PhD, LPC, manager of the crisis intervention programs at Atlantic Health System, is all too familiar with the unique mental and emotional needs of curious and questioning young people. He says the key to keeping a child’s self-worth intact is through consistent support from their parents.

“A parent is a child’s most important resource,” says Rainnier about raising a child on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual). “Parenting is a privilege, and what kids need most from them is open and honest communication and the ability to listen without judgment.”

Know the Barriers and Risks

The mental health landscape for LGBTQ+ youth is complex. From stigmas and discrimination, to fear of rejection, to lack of safe spaces and support services, these youth often feel confused, isolated, and alone. This social pressure and lack of belonging puts them at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, substance misuse and thoughts of suicide.

Find Ways to Foster Acceptance

“Social norms and misinformation are the main reasons why these young people feel marginalized, judged and bullied,” says Rainnier. “Home should be the place where kids feel safe — and loved. That means parents need to get educated and go through the journey with their child. When parents understand the external forces confronting these kids, they often find ways build bridges that foster empathy and acceptance.”

Make Home a Safe and Supportive Haven

A child who is exploring their self-identity progresses through several stages, and so does each family member. That’s why it’s important to allow your child to drive decisions about what to share, how it’s communicated, and with whom. Self-acceptance takes time — and the best experience comes from a home environment where a child can safely express themselves and family members can confirm and support the child’s experiences.

Seek Out Support and Advocacy 

Children with identity confusion may benefit from specialized therapists, physicians and health care experts. Although finding providers who respect and understand your family’s values and beliefs isn’t always easy, a little research and asking the right questions will help you build a support system for your child and your family.

Parent advocacy comes in other forms, too. “Some parents may choose to get involved in community programs or work to advance policies and legal protections for their children. Others may focus on finding resources and support groups to share information and experiences,” says Rainnier.

“Regardless, the most important role parents can play is to identify distress in their child early and seek out interventions that guide and nurture that child, and the entire family dynamic. It’s the unwavering support from parents that is key to healthy growth and development in LGBTQ children.”