More people than ever—including children—are coming out as LGBTQAI+. One survey of people born between 1997 and 2015 (known as Generation Z) found that 52% of those polled identify as something other than “exclusively heterosexual,”1 a significant jump from all older generations.2 These statistics point to the growing acceptance of the LGBTQAI+ community. However, there’s no denying that youth who identify as such are at a notably higher risk for mental health issues3 than their cisgender, heterosexual peers.
If you’re the parent of a Gen Z-er, there’s a good chance that your child will come out to you. Knowing how to respond if they do is extremely important; LGBTQAI+ children who have supportive adults in their life are less at risk for self-harm, suicide, and other mental health issues.4 Keep reading to learn how to navigate a coming out conversation with your child (or a child you love) and provide the support they need during their journey.
How to successfully navigate your child coming out to you
Coming out can be a scary, emotional experience at any age. For kids, this pivotal moment in their lives can be particularly stressful. The most important thing to remember is that this conversation is about your child, not you. Regardless of how you may feel about your child coming out as LGBTQAI+, your response to them will deeply impact their relationship with you and themselves. Below are tips to help you make your child feel comfortable, loved, and supported when they come out.
- Let go of expectations about how your child will come out to you. Every coming out story is unique, despite what you may have seen portrayed in the media. Keep an open mind about how and when your child shares their sexual orientation or gender identity with you.
- Listen to understand, not respond. It’s likely that, by the time your child tells you they’re LGBTQAI+, they’ve rehearsed what they want to say for a long time. Practice listening actively to what they say, instead of forming responses in your head. This will help them feel heard and will allow you to choose your words thoughtfully.
- Keep the focus on your child. It’s normal for both you and your child to feel emotional when they come out to you. Remember to stay focused on your child’s feelings and needs during this time; they need you to be the adult and be there for them. You can and should process your feelings with your partner, therapist, or trusted friend—not your child.
What to say—and what not to say—when your child comes out to you
After your child has come out to you as LGBTQAI+, it’s time for you to respond. Here are some positive phrases you can say to show your child love and support, as well as some to avoid.
- Say “I love you.” Your child needs to hear that you love them. However, try to avoid saying things like “I love you anyway,” which implies that there’s something wrong with your child.
- Say “Thank you for trusting me.” Your child coming out to you shows that they feel secure. Acknowledging that can strengthen your relationship even further.
- Say “I believe you.” A common fear kids have when coming out to their parents is that their sexual orientation or identity will be labeled as a phase or a way to get attention. Reassure your child that you believe them.
- Say “I’m here for you.” Being “in the closet” can make kids feel isolated and lonely. Remind them that they have you to lean on.
- Say “What is the best way for me to support you right now?” Don’t assume that you know what they need now that they’re out. They may not know what they need from you at the moment, but asking how you can help will make it easier for them to come to you when they do need something.
- Don’t say “This is just a phase.” Saying this will communicate to your child that you don’t believe them and make it less likely that they’ll trust you in the future.
- Don’t say “I already knew.” Coming out is a big moment in a child’s life. Hearing that their parents already knew can feel invalidating.
- Don’t say “Why did you wait so long to tell me?” Everyone must navigate coming out on their terms and questions like this can feel confrontational, not supportive.
- Don’t question them. You probably do have many questions for your child after they come out as LGBTQAI+. While you may be coming from a place of curiosity, your child may interpret your questions as judgment or disbelief.
How to show ongoing support for your newly out LGBTQIA+ child
Being an ally for your child extends beyond how you respond when they come out to you. It’s a lifelong practice of showing up, advocating, and supporting them. Here are some helpful ways to show continued support for your newly out child.
- Ask your child questions. Asking questions about how they identify, which pronouns they prefer, and what they wish you understood can go a long way in supporting your child, while also helping you get to know this part of them.
- Educate yourself. While it’s great to ask questions that only your child can answer, don’t rely on them to educate you on all things LGBTQAI+. Do your own research to get yourself up to speed.
- Use the correct terminology. As an ally, you can show respect for your child and the LGBTQAI+ community they belong to by staying up to date with and using the correct terms.5 This is especially important when addressing people by their preferred pronouns.
- Be proactive about getting support for your child and yourself. Having the support of a community or mental health professional can help you and your child feel better equipped to navigate them coming out. You can also access these trusted online resources:
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