Three recent studies have found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are more likely than their heterosexual and gender-conforming peers to experience abuse, bullying and mental health problems. What can parents do to help our LGBTQ foster and adopted children grow into strong mentally healthy adults?
Three studies on the mental health of LGBTQ youth were recently published in the journal Pediatrics. One large study (1,333 transgender and gender-nonconforming children and teens and more than 13,000 children and teens who identified with the gender assigned at birth) found that LGBTQ youth were up to 13 times more likely to be diagnosed with conditions like depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorders than the control group. The lead researcher said that “[i]n nearly all instances, mental health diagnoses were more common for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth than for youth who identify with the gender assigned at birth.”
Another of the recent studies included data from 2,396 teens and young adults and found that LGBTQ youth were significantly more likely to experience depression than their heterosexual peers. LGBTQ youth also reported lower satisfaction with family relationships, greater exposure to cyberbullying and peer victimization, and more unmet medical needs.
So what is a parent to do to help our LGBTQ kids? Psychologists and LGBTQ adults tell us that the following tips can help.
10 Tips for Raising LGBTQ Foster or Adopted Kids
- Create a home that is accepting of all types of diversity and does not tolerate discrimination based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.
- Use gender-neutral language when asking about relationships, especially if your youth is questioning. For example, instead of, “Do you have a girlfriend?” ask, “Is there anyone special in your life?”
- Provide positive role models for your LGBTQ youth by connecting them with adults in the LGBTQ community. Provide access to a variety of books, movies, and materials—including those that positively represent same-sex relationships. Point out LGBTQ celebrities, role models who stand up for the LGBTQ community, and people who demonstrate bravery in the face of social stigma.
- Let youth in your care know that you are willing to listen and talk about anything.
- Support your youth’s self-expression through choices of clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, friends, and room decoration.
- Insist that other family members include and respect all youth in your home. Even if they are uncomfortable with sexual orientation or gender identity that they are not familiar with — especially if they are uncomfortable.
- Allow youth to participate in activities that interest them, regardless of whether these activities are stereotypically male or female.
- Use the name and pronoun (he/she) your youth prefers. (If unclear, ask how he or she prefers to be addressed.)
- Allow your LGBTQ youth to discuss feelings of attraction and engage in age-appropriate romantic relationships, just as you would a heterosexual or cisgender youth. Include your youth’s partner in your family activities to the extent you would include a heterosexual partner.
- If your youth is questioning their sexual orientation or gender identify, allow them to not know. Give them time and assure them that they will figure it out.
Other Creating a Family Resources You May Find Useful
- Adopting a Child Who Identifies as LGBTQ (Online Parent Training Center downloadable course)
- Discrimination Against LGBTQ Foster and Adoptive Parents Hurts Children (blog post)
- Looking for Diverse Books for Kids (blog post)