Supporting teens with their sexuality

If you think your teen is questioning their sexuality, but they haven’t opened up to you about it, you might feel awkward and unsure of what to do or say. Everyone goes through the process of understanding and becoming comfortable with their sexuality. People can be aware of their sexual identity from a young age, but may not have the words to talk about it until they’re older. While you can’t make your teen talk to you, you can help them feel supported.

This guide can help if:

  • Your teen is questioning sexuality and what their sexual orientation might be.

  • You want to learn how to be more open and closer to your teen.

  • Your teen has come out as queer and you want to be a supportive LGBTQIA+ ally for them.

  • You want to understand more about queer sexuality, so you can be ready for when your teen discusses their sexual identity with you.

Be open and approachable

Talk with your teen often about things they care about, so they feel comfortable discussing personal issues with you:

  • Ask questions, and then listen. Showing interest in how they see themselves, and in their experiences at school and in their social life, will help them open up.

  • Share your own experiences of growing up. Point out and praise things you see them saying and doing that are about being true to themselves.

  • Be clear that your love is unconditional: that you will always love, support and accept them, and that they can talk to you about anything.

Let them tell you

Your teen may not have talked to you, either because they don’t identify as LGBTQIA+ or because they’re not ready yet. If you live in an area with few openly gay or queer people, your child may feel they lack support, or fear that they’ll be talked about or even bullied. Here are some ways to help them feel more comfortable in coming out to you:

  • Don’t make assumptions. Let them tell you when they’re ready.

  • Give them time and space to understand themselves, and to become more comfortable about sharing something so personal with you.

  • Reassure them that you’re not worried about their sexual orientation or other aspects of their identity. You love them for who they are.

  • Don’t ask them, ‘Are you gay?’ If they’re not ready to talk, they could panic and say they’re not gay. This can make it even more difficult to come out to you later.

  • You could ask them if they, or their friends, have started to wonder about different parts of their identity. Let them know that this is normal behaviour for teenagers.

Lead by example

Your teen may look to you for clues as to how you feel about their sexuality. Positive messages will help them accept themselves and feel more comfortable with being open with others:

  • Point out and praise role models who stand up for LGBTQIA+ diversity and inclusivity.

  • Introduce queer tv shows, movies and books into the home that show LGBTQIA+ characters in a positive way.

  • Show that you don’t tolerate insults or jokes based on sexual orientation or other aspects of identity.

  • Use the correct terminology when talking about different sexual orientations.

  • Support your teen’s self-expression. Take an interest in and ask them about their style choices.

Create an open, respectful environment within the home

You may not be the only family member who is questioning your teen’s sexual orientation. Use your influence in the home to create a safe space for your child:

  • Show your support and acceptance of diverse sexuality. If close or extended family members make discriminatory comments, tell them you don’t share their views.

  • You may not be able to change people’s opinions, but you can say that you expect family and visitors to your home to speak and act respectfully around your teen.

  • Make it clear that your home is a place where your child can talk about anything without worrying that they’ll be judged. Show your teen you’re interested in their views and opinions, and ask questions when they bring up sensitive subjects.

Encourage your teen to seek support elsewhere

Knowing that they have a strong support network in addition to you will help your teen to open up.

  • Encourage them to talk to a trusted friend or other family member. It’s possible that they don’t want to talk to you, but are open to talking to someone else. Try not to take this personally.

  • If your teen is stressed or overwhelmed, suggest that they see a school counsellor or wellbeing coordinator. Help them to set up an appointment and let them know you’re happy for them to talk to you about it before and/or after the appointment.

  • The next step may be for them to see a mental health professional, but the school counsellor will point you in the right direction. Queer-friendly psychologists exist and are a great resource if therapy is something your teen wants to explore.

Supporting your teen when they experience homophobia and discrimination

It can be incredibly frustrating and upsetting to see your teen experience discrimination or harmful bullying because of their identity.

  • Don’t let your fear that your teen might experience homophobia or discrimination stop them from embracing their chosen identity.

  • How you support your teen may differ depending on what they’re experiencing. They may need you simply to listen and empathise, or they might ask for your help with reporting a homophobic or discriminatory incident.

  • Your teen may not recognise what they have experienced as homophobia or discrimination. Homophobia doesn’t have to target your teen directly to have a negative impact on them. They might witness homophobic comments online or overhear negative judgements from their friends or family. Help them to identify homophobia or discrimination by explaining what these are and by providing some examples.

  • Ask your teen how you can best support them. If you feel that a situation needs to be escalated further, be honest about why you are suggesting this should happen and try to create a plan together.

  • Create a plan with your teen about how you will look after their wellbeing together. Make a list of all the things they know help them to feel better, which you can then refer to whenever times are hard.

Managing your own feelings about your teen’s sexuality and future

LGBTQIA+ teens shouldn’t be rushed into talking about their sexuality before they’re ready. It takes time for them to understand themselves. This is also true for their parents.

  • You may be open and accepting, but still upset with the idea of your teen being gay or queer because you worry about their future. Although they do face discrimination, young people who have come out report being significantly happier than those who haven’t.

  • Don’t blame anyone. Sexuality is never anyone’s fault. Thinking in these terms suggests that you think this part of your teen is a bad thing, which it isn’t.

  • The greatest fear for LGBTQIA+ teens is that their friends and family will reject them. The best way to ensure your teen’s wellbeing is to show them love and support, even if you don’t understand everything yet.

  • If you feel worried or stressed, it’s important that you take care of yourself. You can learn here about self-care, and about how you can help yourself and your teen to stay strong and thrive.

This article was produced thanks to support from the Darling Downs and West Moreton PHN.

Page last reviewed by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on 30/06/2023.

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