During and after the pandemic, I saw an overwhelming surge in teenagers struggling with issues of sexual and gender identity. I also saw a huge increase in the parents reaching out for support around their teenagers’ gender and/or sexual identity struggles. It can be hard, as a parent, to know what to do when your teenager is struggling with issues of gender or sexual identity.

You don’t want to shame them and also you may have feelings about it as well. You are not alone and it’s not easy.

Having a hard time with this does not make you unsupportive or uncaring.

If you are having a hard time, it’s like because you do care and you may not know how to effectively support your child through this.

Here are the most common mistakes I see parents make with teens struggling to navigate these complex issues:

They overreact and Amplify issues of gender identity or sexual identity

It’s important to let your teen explore who they are without being reactive. They have more terms to choose from than your generation and while that may be confusing, it is not cause for alarm. Knowing what’s going on with your teen requires them to feel safe talking to you. If you seem distressed, upset or afraid of what they are sharing, they will likely hide it from you moving forward. They may resent you for not accepting them. Also, it may impact how they feel about this journey as well — they may become distressed, upset, and afraid of their own exploration too. Either way, it’s not helpful for you or your teen.

They pretend they don’t have feelings

Having your teen exploring/shifting/ or changing their identity is not easy. It makes sense to have feelings about it. Parents are human and have feelings too. It’s okay to feel a sense of loss around this. We may feel some grief around who we thought our children would be vs. who they are. You may also be concerned about how others may treat your child. You may feel distressed, upset and afraid. You’re not a bad parent for having these feelings. Pretending that you don’t have feelings isn’t helping the situation.  Reach out to a friend, family member, or therapist for support in processing your own feelings about this. They are understandable and valid.  It’s important to move through those feelings so that you can show up and support your child.

They process their feelings around gender identity or sexual identity with their child

Being a teenager is hard enough. They can not be expected to take on responsibility for how you feel about their identity and choices. Yes, you have feelings about what they are sharing. You are human. That’s normal. Take some time to process and reflect on your feelings before you share them. It’s fair to share our feelings with our children at times. And sometimes, our children don’t need to know how we feel. It’s a challenging distinction that can not be made in the heat of the moment. Get clear on what you need to share, if anything, with your teen before you start talking to them about how you feel. Instead, try asking them how they feel about it. Get more information if they are willing to share (and if they don’t want to share, let that be okay). When deciding what to share with your teenager about how you feel, get clear on how sharing it may impact your relationship with them.

They make assumptions and/or catastrophize

If your teenager is questioning their gender or sexual identity, validate their feelings but don’t run down the rabbit hole of what might happen. Is your teenager safe and okay in this moment? Probably, yes. Remind yourself of that. When you start down the road of predicting their future, slow down and look at what’s real, right now, in the present. This present moment is all that’s certain. Hold on to that, don’t make up more. Your teenager’s exploration of their identity may be a process and a journey that has switchbacks, twists and turns. It might also be a clear direct path. But all you know for sure is where you and they are right now. Let that be enough and it will be easier on you and your teen.

They forget that their teen is still the same person regardless of how they describe their gender or sexuality

Your teen may be confused about their gender or sexual identity. You may be confused too. But don’t get confused about who your child is because gender and sexual identity are just a small piece of the child you raised. Who they are is still the same. Hold on to that. Be confident in that. Your pride in who they are as individuals informs the pride they have in themselves as individuals. That is not predicated on their gender or sexuality. It never was and it won’t be moving forward either. Your teenager is more than that. They need to know that you see and value who they are so that they can internalize that very same thing.

If your teen is struggling with gender or sexual identity issues or if you are struggling with feelings around your teen’s struggles, Beach Cities Psychotherapy is here to support you. Our Therapists understand these challenges.

One of the therapists I admire most is Kyle Shepard, an Associate here at Beach Cities Psychotherapy. Kyle identifies as a queer, gender-expansive pansexual married to a cisgender gay man and is able to talk with a level of openness and comfort that puts everyone, including people who are heteronormative, at ease. Kyle is non-judgmental and meets clients where they are without shaming, judging, or assuming.

Additionally, I highly recommend The ABC’s of LGBT+ particularly if you’re trying to educate yourself and understand the complexities of gender and sexual identity and the abundance of acronyms that go along with it.

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