Being a teenager isn’t easy, and an LGBTQ identity adds a layer of complexity that can bring more challenges. But loving, supportive parents and caregivers can play a critical role in improving mental health outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) young people.  

Research from California’s Family Acceptance Project found that just 35 percent of youths whose families don’t accept their gender or sexual identity believe they can be a happy LGBTQ adult. In contrast, 92 percent of youths with supportive and accepting families are confident they can grow up to be happy. 

Why Support Matters

Alarmingly, the stakes couldn’t be higher: the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 45 percent of LGBTQ youths seriously considered a suicide attempt over the past year.  

According to the Family Guide to Supporting Young People’s Mental Health and Well-Being, LGBTQ youths are more likely to consider suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender peers due to mistreatment and stigmatization.

The guide, produced by Project Cal-Well and WestEd and available in English and Spanish, identifies how families and caregivers can support their LGBTQ loved ones with research-based information on what matters and how to help. For instance, the Trevor Project found that LGBTQ youths reported feeling most supported when their parents or caregivers 

  • were welcoming to LGBTQ friends or partners (62%), 
  • talked with them respectfully about their LGBTQ identity (48%), 
  • used their names and pronouns correctly (48%), 
  • supported their gender expression (45%), and 
  • educated themselves about LGBTQ people and issues (35%). 

How Parents and Caregivers Can Help

The guide offers advice on supporting young LGBTQ loved ones, opening the lines of communication, and understanding just what to say. Here are some of the finer points of the recommendations:  

1. Show Unconditional Love and Support  

Explain to your LGBTQ loved one that you’re an ally to be trusted and that your support will not waver. The guide advises saying the following: 

  • “I accept you just as you are.”  
  • “I’m here for you whenever you need me.”
  • “I love you, and I will always be your biggest supporter.”

2. Respect Gender Expression and Pronouns 

Something as simple as accepting clothing and hairstyle choices or calling LGBTQ youths by their preferred name and pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) can be very important. One study highlighted in the guide found that transgender youths with supportive parents enjoy better self-esteem and mental health, whereas another study reported that transgender young people with unsupportive parents report much higher rates of attempted suicide and a depression rate that’s 300 percent higher.  

3. Be Open to Talking 

Regular, nonstressful conversations normalize your LGBTQ youth’s experiences and feelings. The guide suggests that caregivers 

  • ask questions about their loved one’s friends and daily life, 
  • model open communication by regularly sharing their own feelings, and
  • join a local parent support group to explore their own feelings.

4. Learn About and Advocate for the LBGTQ Community 

The LGBTQ community can sustain and support its members even when other aspects of society do not. The guide notes that parents and caregivers show loved ones that they’re strong supporters of those who bolster them when they  

  • understand that an LGBTQ identity is not just a phase, 
  • learn about LGBTQ history, and 
  • advocate for LGBTQ rights or participate in local organizations that support LGBTQ youths. 

With the right support, LGBTQ youth can thrive and become happy, healthy adults. Parents and caregivers have numerous ways to demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ youths—providing support children can rely on as they grow.  

As the guide emphasizes, “Most important for a caregiver … is supporting your child regardless of whether you understand all aspects of queer identity. Simply treat them the way they want to be treated (including names and pronouns) and let them know you love them unconditionally.” 

Additional Resources

Get more information, tips, and resources to support children’s and youths’ mental health and well-being in the Family Guide to Supporting Young People’s Mental Health and Well-Being: Information, Tips, and Resources.