If your child is LGBT+ they may feel very anxious about their identity

father son discussing anxiety

During their teenage years, many young people will explore their sexuality. Those children who feel attracted to the same or both genders may not have ‘come out’ to friends or family as having a non-heterosexual identity through ‘fear of being gay’ or concerns around acceptance from peers. They may have feelings about ‘being different’ from traditional norms of gender identity or sexuality, or experiences of homophobic comments and bullying in school. 

Our The Good Childhood Report 2018 shows that almost 50% of children aged 14 who say they are attracted to the same or both genders have self-harmed.

With such worrying figures, it’s important to help young people gain confidence about their emerging sexuality, and overcome any anxiety or fears. Support from parents is one way that children can be encouraged to feel at ease.

No pressure

Many young people may not want to speak to their parents about their sexuality, whatever their preferences. Your child may be having these discussions with friends or other peers, they may be still exploring their sexuality, or they may not ready to open up yet. It’s important to go at the pace your child sets.

It’s normal for parents to have well-meaning concerns about their child’s well-being in light of stories about homophobic bullying and self-harm among non-heterosexual young people. However try not to project these fears onto your child and force a conversation they don’t yet want to have. It may add to their anxiety. 

Have representation

Create a positive environment where your child feels able to talk to you about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This could be in the form of watching films or television featuring non-heterosexual people, having positive relationships with non-heterosexual people in the community or family, or simply the way you talk about the LGBT+ community. Don’t allow people to say negative things in your home and challenge assumptions or language if they do.

If children feel supported by the people around them, they will feel more at ease with their emerging identity and how this ‘matches up’ to the norms of gender and sexuality within their social circles. 

Listen and encourage

If your child talks to you about their feelings around sexuality, treat their anxieties seriously. It’s likely that if your child is talking to you, he or she has considered this to great length, and may have concerns about the conversation.

Give them space and listen. You can support your child by encouraging them, helping them to gain confidence and to find ways of coping with potentially difficult situations.

If you yourself have reservations about being gay, try to put these feelings to one side. Remember, you wouldn’t focus on the details of a heterosexual child’s preferences, you simply love them and want them to be happy. You should do the same for a child who has expressed non-heterosexual feelings too.

A support system

Data from The Good Childhood Report shows that characteristics such as gender and sexuality are important factors in predicting well-being. Sadly, children aged 14 who said they were attracted to the same or both genders had markedly lower well-being, and a much higher likelihood of depressive symptoms.

During their teenage years, your child’s friends and peers may emphasise the importance of romantic and sexual relationships, while perpetuating stereotypes around gender and what is expected of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. This can be a confusing environment for a young person who is exploring a non-heterosexual identity.

While there is no quick fix for these problematic statistics, showing your child that they have a support system can help them overcome their anxiety and make a marked difference to their well-being as they grow.