These discussions can be difficult to have as a parent. Our staff is available at 704-344-8335 to help prepare for these conversations. In general, we might recommend keeping these things in mind:
It’s difficult for you to know how your child identifies until they tell you themselves. Many parents are scared when they see “signs” their child isn’t heterosexual or cisgender (cisgender means someone identifies with their sex assigned at birth). “My daughter has always been a tomboy and is never playing with other girls,” or “My son likes to wear his sister’s dresses.” Sometimes parents have questions about more subtle “signs” like, “My son is 20 and he has never had a girlfriend.” The idea that there are definitive “signs” of sexual orientation or gender identity has been perpetuated recently by online websites or smartphone apps that allow you to answer questions based on stereotypes. That’s all these “signs” are: often hurtful stereotypes.
Unfortunately, no matter how LGBTQ you think your child is, you can’t really know until they tell you. Similarly, don’t assume that your child is heterosexual just because there have been no “signs”. Talking to your kids as though you assume they will be one way or another can quickly close important communication with your teen, and therefore close access to you as an important support in their lives. There are a few simple ways to help set the stage for this open communication.
Set the Stage for Open Communication
Adolescence and young adulthood is developmentally about forming their identity and navigating healthy relationships. This developmental stage is a challenging and often confusing time for nearly all teens as they establish their place in ever-changing social circles. Amidst this confusion and challenge, your child needs to know that you care about them unconditionally.
- Allow for toys or activities regardless of gender.
Play is an important process for language development and developing emotional regulation. Allow for your child’s full expression regardless of the supposed “gender” of their toys. Similarly allow for their respective interest into adolescence. Given the human need to be part of a group of people like oneself, it is more important for your child to be part of a (positive) social group—even if its not an activity typical of their gender—than to be in an activity typical of their gender.
- Find casual ways to bring up LGBTQ topics in conversation.
Talk positively about an LGBTQ celebrity, TV show, or movie. Discuss current events related to anti-gay bullying or marriage equality. Make sure your child knows these are issues you are open to talking about.
- Be visible in speaking against homophobia or transphobia.
Challenge anti-gay jokes or homophobic remarks (i.e. “That’s so gay.” Or “No homo.”), even if these remarks come from the child you suspect is LGBTQ.
- Message your support. Frequently.
Tell your child that you love them no matter what. Given the oft-negative messages LGBTQ youth receive from society and the news, many youth fear that support from you as their parent might change if they come out as LGBTQ. You can challenge this fear by setting the stage in this way.
This is definitely not a comprehensive guide, but these steps will hopefully promote open communication with your child to better explore these issues together.
Congratulations! Your child feels comfortable enough in your relationship to tell you this very important part of their life. If your child talks to you about being by LGBTQ, it is likely not on accident or mistake. Your child has likely put a lot of thought into where, when, and how they would tell you. Acknowledge the courage they displayed in coming out to you. Figure out how comfortable they are with other people knowing—and in turn, who you can speak openly about this with. You might be the first person they have told, or one of the last. If you are among one of the last, try not to feel hurt.
Occasionally, parents feel loss and grief over the specific future they saw or had planned for their child. Parents also can struggle with feeling responsible for their child being LGBTQ. These are difficult thoughts to process and can take time to work through. There is no scientific evidence to support the suggestion that being LGBTQ is a result of parenting. Parenting does influence how secure children feel in their identity, their self-concept, and how comfortable they feel in talking about these issues with you.
Remember that being LGBTQ is just one component of their identity. Your child is as complex in their interests, preferences, identity, hobbies, friendships, academics, and favorite foods as you are. Just as everything they talk about is not related to their gender or sexual identity, neither should your conversations only be about these issues. It should, however, be among those that you feel comfortable talking about.
The best way to know what your child says or does at Time Out Youth is to ask them. Over the course of forming their own identity, youth might vacillate in their openness with their parents/guardians. We believe in the importance of a space where youth can be authentically themselves free of judgment. Staff and volunteers are ethically bound to respect our youths’ right to confidentiality and privacy. With the exception of instances of imminent harm to themselves or others, we do not discuss youth’s conversations without prior consent from the youth.
Different kids find their way to Time Out Youth. Youth from all over the Charlotte region walk; take the bus; get a lift from parents, friends, grandparents, or caseworker; drive; or bike to our office. We also have youth who travel one to two hours from outside of Charlotte to get to Time Out Youth.
Youth 13-20 have access to our Safe Space drop-in hours as well as weekly discussion groups.
Young adults ages 21-25 serve as Young Adult Leaders and help supervise Safe Space, act as role models for younger youth, and facilitate groups.
Our youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, pansexual, asexual, genderqueer, questioning, and straight. They are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and immigrant. They have grown up in nuclear families, with grandparents, and with foster parents. Some come to us because they don’t know anyone else who is LGBTQ. Some are only “out” at Time Out Youth. In fact, our agency name came about after kids described our agency as the only time they could be out as LGBTQ. Still, other youth have strong support networks and supportive families and come to socialize or to advocate for LGBTQ issues.
Given the diverse needs, interests, and identities of our youth we strive to have a wide range of programming to reflect our youth. Check out our Discussion Groups to see which groups might best fit your child’s age range or identity. View our Calendar to see upcoming topics and activities that might be of interest to your child.
As a parent or guardian, we want you to be comfortable in knowing what our groups are like. We invite you to sit in on a group to see how groups are structured and the type of discussion that goes on. This might be a group before you even bring your child to Time Out Youth or it might be with your child at their first group. We limit parent attendance at group so that youth have a place to be completely themselves. When parents attend group on a regular basis, youth tend to limit their participation and self-disclosure. When this happens, youth might not get all that they could from our programming.
Time Out Youth events are supervised by staff, volunteers, and/or Young Adult Leaders. All those adults who regularly have access to our youth are vetted through a substantial process including an interview, reference check, and background check.
Episodes of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns are fairly common in adolescence and young adulthood. Your first step might be to talk about your concerns with your teen. It’s important to remember that their feelings may or may not be related to being LGBTQ. If you have these concerns you should also consult with a mental health professional. Time Out Youth maintains a list of local therapists who are LGBTQ-affirming. We can connect you with a provider who has experience with LGBTQ youth. If you believe your child is in imminent risk of hurting themselves or someone else, call 911.