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Stress and LGBTQIA+ Youth: How Caregivers Can Help

Young diverse people having fun holding LGBT rainbow flag outdoor

No teenager is a stranger to stress. The teen years can be a tumultuous time full of many challenges and changes. And while many of these are positive and exciting, they can still be sources of stress.

For LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual) youth, there are even more challenges and stressors in their everyday lives as they face discrimination and ignorance. As a parent or caregiver, it can be overwhelming to know how to best support an LGBTQIA+ teen in coping with stress, especially if you do not share their unique identity and experience. 

June is Pride Month, a time for celebrating people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Let’s explore some strategies to care for an LGBTQIA+ teen in your life, and help them build the capacity to navigate stress.

Stress and Its Impact on LGBTQIA+ Youth

While nothing about being LGBTQIA+ makes a person more biologically prone to stress or other mental health difficulties, the stigmas and discrimination they face have led to much higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression among LGBTQIA+ children and youth.

According to the “2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People” (conducted by the Trevor Project), 41% of LGBTA youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with 14% attempting suicide in the past year. In addition to these staggering statistics, only 38% of LGBTQIA+ youth in the United States found their home to be “LGBTQ-affirming.” 

Misconceptions About LGBTQIA+ Youth

Mother and son together holding hands sitting on the couch at home, LGBTQIATo effectively support your LGBTQIA+ child in coping with stress, the most important step is being a welcoming, affirming ally to them and their identity. Here are some truths you should know to help counter any misconceptions you may have heard or believe:

This isn’t “a phase.” Studies by the Family Acceptance Project found children often have a firm understanding of their gender identity by age four, and their sexual orientation by 13.

Their identity is neither a choice nor trauma-related. A youth’s gender identity or sexual orientation does not stem from a traumatic event or anything another person has said or done. It is natural and not the result of a mental health condition or choice.

They’re much like other youth. Every child goes through the same developmental phases and experiences times of learning and understanding their gender and sexual identities.

Their identity isn’t yours to change. Attempting to dissuade a young person identifying as LGBTQIA+ from their identity can lead to severe stress and other mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

You can be religious and support LGBTQIA+ teens. Showing love, affirmation and support to LGBTQIA+ teens does not mean rejecting your personal faith and beliefs. 

6 Tips to Help Your LGBTQIA+ Youth Cope with Stress

If you are a parent or caregiver of an LGBTQIA+ youth, here are some actions you can take to show your support and provide a safe, supportive environment to cope with stress:

An Asian teenage beauty blogger with colored hair using a hair dryer to make a new hairstyle. LGBTQIA people and daily grooming concepts.1. Be an Ally

The most important thing you can do to support your LGBTQIA+ youth is to be their ally! An ally is someone who supports and advocates for LGBTQIA+ people and their community. Being an ally is more than just accepting or tolerating your child’s identity: it means fully embracing who they are and coming alongside them however they need you to. Here are a few ways you can actively be an ally for your LGTBQ+ youth:

  • Use inclusive, gender-neutral language and be respectful of using your child’s preferred pronouns.
  • Call your youth by the name of their choice, even if it differs from the name they were given at birth.
  • Affirm their identity by encouraging them to explore self-expression through their hair, makeup, jewelry, clothes and how they decorate their personal space.
  • Celebrate diversity by filling your home with books and media by diverse authors or representing diverse ideals.
  • Advocate for your child at school and in all of their extracurriculars, especially if you or your child notice any discrimination.
  • Educate yourself on the history of and current-day issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ community.

2. Pay Attention to Their Mental Health

Teenage Boy Relaxing in his BedroomMental health difficulties are very common for LGBTQIA+ youth. According to a Scientific American study, LGBTQIA+ youth with multiple marginalized identities reported greater suicide risk, compared with their peers who did not have more than one marginalized identity. Be in tune with your child’s stress levels so you can recognize when they need help. Some signs that they aren’t coping well with stress include:

  • Changes in eating habits (overeating or not eating as much as they usually do)
  • Changes in sleeping habits (insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dropping grades or other performance problems
  • Crying a lot more than usual or being highly emotive
  • Becoming obsessive about studying or completing tasks
  • Becoming angry or irritated very easily

3. Disconnect from Social Media and Screens

In an advisory released by the U.S. Surgeon General in 2023, research revealed that 95% of youth ages 13-17 report using a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly.”

There are positives to social media, for many teens it’s a way to have a sense of community when they might feel their in-person LGBTQIA+ community is lacking. However, the internet is also rife with discrimination, hate speech and cyberbullying. The negative impact of screens on adolescent health goes beyond the possible negative interactions on social media. In addition to the addictive qualities of screens, too much screen time has been linked to sleep problems, attention and learning difficulties and physical health issues. 

While the ideal amount of screen time in a given day or week differs from teen to teen, it’s smart to have designated disconnection time — at least an hour before bedtime, as well as during meals. You can model smart social media boundaries as a parent by disconnecting too. 

4. Reconnect with Loved Ones

Family Sitting Around Table At Home Eating Meal TogetherEncourage your youth to stay connected and engaged with their friends and family. Help them to be mindful of finding healthy friendships that leave them feeling uplifted, supported and accepted as they are.

Make family time a priority too, dedicating regular meals or social time to being together with your youth and engaging in conversation. Investing in your teen goes a long way toward helping establish a strong sense of self-worth and increased resilience during stressful seasons.

5. Incorporate Stress Coping Strategies

Teach your youth how to develop healthy coping strategies to manage their stress. These strategies should be calming and relaxing for your youth and help them to feel grounded and find enjoyment in their day. Some examples of coping strategies might include:

  • Spending time outside
  • Making a list of affirmations or things that make them happy
  • Listening to music
  • Reading a book (for pleasure, not for a homework assignment!)
  • Expressing creativity (art, dance, writing, etc.)
  • Journaling

6. Seek Professional Help

It doesn’t need to be a crisis-level situation for teens to find value in professional help with their mental health! Therapy is an excellent resource for anyone struggling with stress management. 

Therapy Services with KVC Kentucky

When everyday stress becomes unmanageable for LGBTQIA+ teens, professional counseling and mental health support can be transformational. KVC Kentucky offers behavioral health services to youth and their families in many locations across our state. Contact us today to learn more, and find the hope and help your teen needs.

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