Pride Month has highlighted the dangers of being part of the LGBTQIA+ in the United States, the importance of teaching empathy to teens as they find themselves confused about LGBTQIA+ peers, and the necessity to highlight and uplift those who continue to stand proud as LGBTQIA+ in a toxic climate. This Pride Month, let’s examine how parents and other adults can contribute to helping LGBTQIA+ teens embrace their identities and help other teens be more accepting of their peers. As with most behaviors and habits, it all starts in the home.
What Does Your Teen Think?
A habit that can help parents and adults connect with teens and better understand how they currently see the world is to ask them questions. For example, when watching a TV show together, or when your teen shows you a video or meme, ask them what they think about it. Avoid immediately shutting them down for their opinion or declaring your own in contrast. Instead, please take a moment to think about what they’ve said and try to continue an honest conversation about why your teen feels the way they do.
Sometimes, teenagers share and laugh at offensive content or so-called “edgy” jokes. They might also share and laugh at homophobic content, sexist content, or so-called “non-PC” content. On the surface, we’ve all been exposed to offensive humor, and it’s generally accepted that nothing is taboo when it comes to jokes and satire. But even jokes can have an immediate impact on the people they’re centered on. For example, rape jokes leave women feeling more anxious and vulnerable and lead men to take rape less seriously.
Teens are potentially drawn to this kind of humor because it’s usually new to them for a time. But taking the time to have an honest conversation with your teen about this kind of content might help you make them think about the deeper implications of sharing it with others, especially those it seeks to make fun of. Of course, the goal isn’t to police how your teen thinks or what they should watch.
It is to help them develop a resistance to hateful rhetoric and recognize where they might want to draw a line when making fun of someone else personally. There are differences between offensive humor that help highlight the ridiculousness and poor rhetoric of certain racist or stereotypical sentiments and humor that makes the offense itself its only punchline. Instead of reprimanding your teen for their opinions, try to understand them and think about how you might be able to convince them to have an open mind about other people.
Be Open to Learn More
Parents continue to be a central influence on their teens, even if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes. While it is true that teens pay a lot of attention to what their peers think and like, parental influence is an overarching factor that even plays a role in what peers a teen will associate with. In other words, sometimes, a teen’s choices in peers serve to reinforce what they’ve learned at home.
To that end, being a good role model for your children continues to be important even later in their life, as they approach adulthood. If you want to leave a legacy of acceptance and empathy in your children, consider how your own actions and behaviors can be interpreted, and what you’ve done to contribute to decreasing victimization at school, home, or in the community, or confronting bigotry and hateful speech.
An Inclusive Environment
Regardless of whether your teen identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ or wishes to be an ally, a big part of helping shape an inclusive mindset is to practice empathy and inclusion at home. Teens from all backgrounds are in the process of asking themselves who they are and developing an identity. They will worry, one way or the other, about being acceptable to others, about how they will be received by their friends and family, and about tailoring themselves to avoid victimization.
Make sure your children understand that they have the right to be themselves and that you’re here to foster a healthy environment for them to grow up in, rather than dictate who they should be as they age. Ask yourself if you’re trying to mold your child into what you perceive to be the right way to be, or if you’re open to raising someone you might personally disagree with but still want to love and support. If you aren’t sure that your home environment is helping your teen truly be themselves, you might want to try and find ways to connect with your child and ensure that they aren’t afraid of being themselves in front of you.
It’s Okay to Take Your Time
Parents may have a harder time adjusting to new information and taking in new ideas than their teens. But, on the other hand, they benefit from the wisdom that age, experience, and hindsight bring. Sometimes, parents feel tempted to polarize their positions because of how their teens might act when faced with a disagreeing opinion. Still, we want to encourage you to take your time to go through these topics at your own pace, inform yourself, and be open to new information.
Resources for Parents of LGBTQIA+ Teens
If you want to hear from other parents with LGBTQIA+ teens, or want to learn more about how LGBTQIA+ youth can be uplifted in the United States, here are a couple of key organizations and resources to get you started:
Building a better attitude towards other people is something you can start doing today – but it takes time for any single person’s efforts to result in real change. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can help to think about how your actions and habits play a role in impacting the life of your teen – whether to help them develop greater empathy skills, teach them to broaden their horizons or help them feel empowered to be themselves and embrace what they were born with.
Teens who identify as LGBTQIA+ face more vitriol and hate today than ten years ago. This Pride Month, let us celebrate and embolden them to embrace who they are, speak out against victimization and bigotry, and help our teens and friends learn to be more accepting of one another.