BACK TO SCHOOL – TIPS FOR PARENTS
Summer break comes to an end, and as we start to get ready for the new school year, I realize I am more nervous than usual. My kid came out to the extended family over the summer, and now he is ready to start school out of the closet. Even though his closest friends already knew, he has decided to be more open and public about his identity.
I know this feeling of fear and nervousness is common. For parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender students the excitement of a new school year can be accompanied by anxiety and fear.
Here are ways you can advocate for yourself and your child as you begin another school year. Remember that the goal for all of us as parents and teachers is to provide our kids with a safe, productive, and supportive learning environment. Find your allies, and above all else, keep the communication open with your child. Remember always to first talk with your child about how open and out they want to be at school, and in any other environment.
1- Support your child
For many LGBTQ youths, breaking the news to mom and dad is the scariest part of coming out. You’re their anchor, and your acceptance is key. In fact, research shows that LGBTQ adolescents who are supported by their families grow up to be happier and healthier adults.
You don’t need to be an expert in all things LGBTQ to let them know you care. Just be present and be open. Even if you’re not sure what to say, something as simple as, “I’m here for you. I love you, and I will support you no matter what” can mean the world to your child.
First talk to your child and ask them what they need to feel safe and supported in the classroom and, if he or she is ready, together could relay that information to their teacher(s). Check with your kid about how open he/she wants to be at school. Together consider the option to schedule a time to sit down with their teacher(s) or school administrators to be sure everyone is comfortable and informed about your family’s structure and identity. Give the teacher the opportunity to ask you questions. Understanding breeds knowledge, and sometimes it is our job to inform others. This may include sharing the use of their preferred name, pronouns, or the allowance of a specific friend to be with them during transitions to reduce the possibility of harassment.
As long as conversations are mutually beneficial and respectful, open lines of communication are necessary.
Pay attention and listen. Your child and their teacher(s) have first-hand knowledge of their school day; be sure you are giving them the opportunity to talk to you too. Everyone must be on the same page for your child to feel safe and comfortable to tackle a new school year.
– How to Get Kids Talking
You can’t always rely on your children to initiate these exchanges, though. When you feel something needs to be discussed, try being less direct. Bring up their friends or characters you encounter while watching age-appropriate movies or television together.
Staying connected to your child’s world makes it easier for them to approach you with bigger, more complex issues, like sexuality. The more you communicate with your child, the more comfortable they’ll feel.
3- Stay involved with the school
Kids spend almost as much time in the classroom as they do at home. Here’s what you can do to make sure they feel comfortable there, too.
- If your kid is ready to share with his or her teacher(s), maintain frequent contact with them. That way, you’ll know when issues arise.
- Push for more inclusive sex education. Very few states allow schools to provide LGBTQ students with the information they need to be safe and healthy. Be aware of these knowledge gaps so that you can fill them yourself.
- Above all, don’t hesitate to speak up. As a parent, you have a huge voice in the school system. If there is a problem and the school isn’t taking your concerns seriously, go to the principal or even the school board.
– Safety First
Bullying is a problem for many students, but LGBTQ youth, in particular, are often targeted for being different. If you see these signs, reach out to a teacher, guidance counselor or school administrator:
- Behavior change (e.g., your outgoing, sociable child is now withdrawn)
- Discipline or behavioral problems in school
- Declining grades
- Unexplained absences
- Sudden shifts in who’s a friend and who’s not
- Engagement in risk behavior (e.g., drug use, new sexual partner) that is out of character for your child
If the bullying or harassment is coming from a teacher or school administrator, it may be necessary to contact your state’s Human Rights Commission to report discrimination. More of your rights can be found at GLAD.org.
Bottom line: Safety is non-negotiable. You have every right to speak up and to be heard.
All of the fun and exciting aspects of a new school year should not be overshadowed by ignorance. You, your family, and your child deserve the same respect and opportunities as every other family and student. It may take a little more work and time in some cases, but the benefits of a happy and confident student are well worth the extra energy.
4- Ensure they form healthy relationships
As kids become teens, it’s OK for them to develop interest in other boys and girls their age. Dating is daunting for most parents — especially parents of LGBTQ youth — but it’s an important part of adolescent development for all children. To keep them safe, be involved and stay connected.
– Stay on top of social media
Because they’re often discouraged from being open about their sexual orientation and gender identity, some LGBTQ individuals rely on social media and phone applications to meet others. Many social platforms and apps provide LGBTQ youth with an inclusive space to connect with friends and allies, but some (especially dating apps) include content that is inappropriate for teens. Monitor what they’re doing on their devices and talk to them about the phone and social media use.
Good luck parents!
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