by David McNamara, PhD
Licensed Psychologist specializing in
tweens, teens, young adults & families
Navigating the tween and teen years is no small undertaking for any kid or their family, but for queer and trans teens it can be an extraordinarily vulnerable time. Who do they ‘like’ and what to do about that? How to make sense of their body and what it might want? How not to feel weird, isolated, or lonely? How to talk to parents — IF to talk to parents — about their feelings and their bodies? This is hard stuff for any teen, especially so for kids exploring being queer or trans.
As a parent, your role in supporting your child’s journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and emotional well-being is crucial. You can offer a grounded, consistent, and loving base from which they can extend out into the larger world of peers and their larger social environment; a place to explore, in conversation, different, often alternative, perspectives on life issues and choices, from the intensely personal to the political; a place of solace and nurture and safety in a complex, increasingly conflictual, world.
Let me offer a few ways of thinking about how best to serve in parenting your kid who might be exploring ‘alternative’—non-‘cis’ or ‘heteronormative’—expressions of sexuality or gender.
Cultivate Open and Nonjudgmental Communication: Creating an environment of trust and open dialogue is essential. Encourage your teen to express themself openly and freely and assure them that their feelings and explorations are valid. Take the time to actively listen and empathize with their struggles, fears, and aspirations. Validate their search for identity and avoid making assumptions or potentially dismissive remarks. If you have questions or concerns, raise them carefully, thoughtfully, and supportively. They probably know far more than you do about themself and their social world.
Educate Yourself: Expand your understanding of queer and trans experiences by educating yourself. Read books, articles, and online resources that address LGBTQ+ issues. Find ways to address your own questions and concerns in a way that supports you AND your child. Being knowledgeable will help you support your teen more effectively and be an ally in their journey.
Respect Privacy and Confidentiality: Respecting your teen’s privacy is crucial for maintaining their trust. Understand that they may not be ready to share certain aspects of their identity or experiences with you right away. Avoid outing them without their consent and keep their personal information confidential unless they express a desire to share it.
Advocate for Their Well-being: Be an advocate for your teen’s mental and physical health. Help them connect with supportive professionals, such as therapists or counselors who specialize in working with queer and trans adolescents, along with LGBTQ+ friendly healthcare providers who understand their unique needs. Bainbridge is extraordinarily fortunate to have a network of such professionals skilled in this area. Be aware of their school situation, ensuring they have a safe and inclusive learning and peer environment.
Supporting your teen who experiences themself as queer or trans can be both challenging and incredibly important in your child’s life. Remember, your solid support will help your child navigate their journey with confidence and resilience, knowing they have a loving and accepting parent by their side.