Creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth to feel supported and affirmed is essential to their well-being. Juliann Garey, a journalist and writer for the Child Mind Institute Blog says, “Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t cause mental health problems — and is not caused by mental health problems. Rather, these kids’ increased risk of developing mental health problems stems from exposure to factors like rejection, bullying, discrimination, and violence.” We spoke with Brianna Sigg, MSW, LICSW, to learn how parents and caregivers can support LGBTQ+ youth.
Hi Brianna! Before we get into how parents can support LGBTQ+ youth, please let us know a little bit about yourself. What drew you to the field of therapy, and what type of therapy/counseling do you specialize in?
This seems like such a simple question but I think the answer to this has evolved a lot over the years. Some of my experiences as a teenager supporting my friends through depression and other struggles was a big reason I realized that I was interested in mental health and being a listener for people. I love people and I think listening to people’s experiences and their stories can be one of the most powerful ways to connect with others. I really think that is what led me to become a therapist and I feel so grateful that people are willing to share their stories with me.
I work primarily, individually with youth ages 10+, adolescents and adults who are seeking therapy for a variety of reasons. I have experience working with people who have experienced trauma, severe and persistent mental illness’ and a variety of other concerns. I love working with LGBTQ+ folks, specifically those who are trans/non-binary or exploring their identity relating to gender, no matter where they are in their process.
How can a parent support their child who may be exploring their gender identity and how can a parent respond in an affirming and supportive way?
This is one of the best questions and most common questions that I get and part of it is really simple, your kid is sharing a huge part of themselves with you and most of the time all anyone wants is for their parents to be there and to remind them that of all the scary things and places in this world, parents/caregivers should be safe adults and it’s safe to share important things with them. So how can we do that?
One of the best ways a parent can support their child who is exploring gender identity is to just show up. Continue to remind your kid that you love them and that you want to work with them to support them in their needs. Every adult client that I have ever worked with who has an estranged relationship with their parents/caregivers due to not being supported or accepted has said that they just wish their loved one was willing to educate themselves and willing to put the effort in to learn what this means for their child.
There are so many ways to respond in an affirming and supportive way and it doesn’t have to look perfect. Reminding yourself first and foremost that your relationship with your child and meeting their needs should continue to be the biggest priority and sometimes just letting them know that can make all the difference. If you are unsure of what to say, it’s okay to say something like, “It may take me some time to understand but I want to and I am going to do my best to learn. How can I best support you and what do you need from me moving forward?”
How can parents support their LGBTQ+ child’s mental health?
LGBTQ+ youth can experience a variety of different challenges than cisgender and heterosexual youth which is why it is so important to continue to learn about how holding an LGBTQ+ identity can impact mental health. One of my biggest things for families is creating a safe space for communication, making sure kids know that it’s okay to be open about how they are feeling, and knowing that if they share this with adults, adults are there to help. Ensure you are listening and asking your kids what they need and helping them get connected to different supports and resources.
What are some additional challenges LGBTQ+ youth of color face, and how can families provide additional support for these challenges?
Unfortunately, in addition to holding an LGBTQ+ identity, statistics show that youth of color face discrimination at an even higher rate due to their identity. It is so important to be aware of this but also create spaces that show your kid/child that they are not alone. Encourage them to talk about their experience. Help them to surround themselves with people who they can relate to and who are going to support them and lift them up. We can’t protect all of our youth from the things they will face in this world, but we can help prepare them to know how to take care of themselves and keep themselves safe. If there is anywhere that can build a foundation to knowing safety and acceptance exists, having your home and your relationship be supportive and affirming is one of the most important places to start.
What resources do you recommend to parents seeking to learn more about supporting their LGBTQ+ child?
Oh man, there are so many incredible people and organizations that are doing fantastic work and creating resources for LGBTQ+ families. I always encourage people to diversify your social media, follow LGBTQ+ pages, people and organizations.
Some amazing organizations are:
Want to learn more? Join us for our free webinar, “Supporting LGBTQ+ Youth” presented by Brianna Sigg on Monday, June 13. We also encourage you to check out The Parents Guide to Supporting LGBTQIA+ Kids, from parents.com