You may not mean to, but there are many things that adults say on a regular basis that are causing harm to teens who identify as LGBTQ+. These microaggression include: “it’s just a phase,” “they are too young to know,” and “they’re just trying to fit in.” Some of those may not sound so bad, but when heard over and over again they rip through our teens like a knife.
Microaggressions and LGBTQIA+ Youth
Microaggressions are the everyday encounters of subtle discrimination that people of various marginalized groups experience throughout their lives (Sue et al., 2007).
Another way to describe microaggressions is to relate them to a mosquito bite:
Everyone gets bit by mosquitos at one time or another but those who make up marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ youth, are regularly fighting off more than your average number of mosquitos. I learned this analogy from a video titled How microaggressions are like mosquito bites • Same Difference and it is definitely worth a watch!
Young People Feel More Empowered but Are Frequent Victims of Microaggressions
Young people are feeling more empowered to be themselves, yet there are more adults questioning whether their identity is legitimate or if it is part of a phase or a way to fit in with others. This is an example of a microaggression that LGBTQ youth encounter regularly and while it may seem harmless, like a single mosquito bite. These kids are getting bit by these mosquitos everywhere they go.
Now let’s talk about why this is creating anxiety for these teens!
It’s Not “Just A Phase,” It’s a Process
Believe it or not, there is a scientific reason that your child needs to explore their identity and needs the space to do it.
Identity vs. Role Confusion
According to Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development Theory, individuals between ages 12 and 18 are in the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage. In this stage, it is crucial to explore identity in order for teens to figure out who they are going to be as adults. If adolescents do not have the ability to engage in identity exploration, they become stuck in role confusion. They are left feeling unsure of themselves and their place in the world.
Exploring New Identities is Necessary
This means that trying new identities is a developmental necessity and trying to prevent this exploration is a hinderance to growth.
It’s Not as New as You Think
Individuals in this age category have always explored identity in a variety of ways. This is why teens tend to try new clothing styles, hairstyles, slang terms, music preferences, activities, and so much more. It’s a way for teens to uncover who they might be as individuals. We understand that teens explore those facets of identity and therefore we do not tend to question it.
Society Tries to Sway Identity Exploration
When it comes to gender and sexual identity exploration, however, we become uncomfortable and try to sway LGBTQ youth away from that exploration. We dismiss the experience by saying “it’s a phase. They just want to fit in.” Though this is not a new area of development! Past generations of teens dealt with this in silence and were left feeling immense amounts of shame.
Times have changed!
We now have knowledge that gender and sexuality are components of identity. Let’s stop trying to silence and shame LGBTQ youth away from a necessary process in order to protect the comfort of the adults in their lives.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I firmly believe that suppression leads to anxiety and other mental health problems.
They’re Not “Too Young to Know”
When children and adolescents open up about being LGBTQ youth, a common question I hear from adults is around a person being “too young to know.” This concern especially present when it comes to youth expressing attraction for others of the same sex or gender. The discomfort that arises generally assumes that attraction to the opposite sex or gender is the default setting.
I want you to think about the following scenarios.
How often in our society do we say “aww” when a little boy talks about having a crush on a little girl in their elementary school class? How often do we say things about little girls such as “she’s going to break so many guy’s hearts” or about little boys like “he’s going to be such a lady killer.”
Romantic Attraction is Different Than Sexual Attraction
We don’t bat an eye when we automatically depict young children in straight scenarios so why is a child suddenly “too young” to have a homoromantic crush?
Let me break this down a little further, because I bet the word homoromantic had you scratching your head. There is a big difference between sexual attraction and romantic attraction.
The Misconception That Sex Is Involved
I think many people get worked up when it comes to young people crushing on the same sex or gender, because we assume that for one to know who they are attracted to sex must be involved. The word sex is in the labels homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, but romantic attraction can and absolutely does exist without sexual attraction having to factor in.
Even straight people generally have a sense of who they are attracted to before sex is involved and that is because of romantic attraction. For children and teens the crushes they develop in their early years are most likely romantic and not sexual.
Supporting LGBTQIA+ Teen
Here are some tips for supporting your LGBTQ youth:
I understand that navigating your teen’s identity development can be confusing and I bet most parents truly want to accept and support their teens. It can be hard to know how! This was not a landscape that was present when we were growing up.
There are going to be many out in the world that try to illegitimize your teens identity with microaggressions. Learn as much as you can about microaggressions and avoid using them. Validate that your teens identity is true, accepted, and supported. Let your teen know that they can explore and change their identity and you will be there to help.
Help your teen explore their identity by getting involved with the process. Ask your teen questions and learn as much as possible about what their identity is to them. They may use certain labels or terms that you have never heard of. When that happens, ask your teen what that label means to them. A label may mean something different to different individuals who use the same one so get to know what their definition and connection to it is.
Keep lines of communication open with your teen so that they know they can process their identity development with you. When you were growing up, your parent may not have understood or been interested in your identity development and that probably led to a lot of misunderstanding. Most parents want their child to feel comfortable opening up and sharing with them and it’s possible for teens to do that when it is warmly welcomed. Maybe set aside regular time weekly to go for lunch, a walk, or going to a coffee shop together where they get to talk freely.
There are many ways you can reach out for additional support for both yourself and your teen. Your teen may benefit from talking to a counselor about their experiences, but also you probably would too! You can seek out your own counseling or find a support group that caters to parents of LGTBQIA+ youth. A simple google search may help you find just the right one! Also, Facebook groups are a great way to find support from others who are navigating similar challenges.
Here are a few resources that I found:
PARENTS Support Group Of LGBTQ* Teens, Children, and Adults.
Find Support With Therapy for LGBTQ Youth in Metairie, LA
If your teen is looking for support as a member of the LGBTQ community, Therapy for Teens at Creative Counseling can help. I provide a safe and supportive space to help teens navigating the challenges that are associated with being an LGBTQ member. To get started follow these three simple steps:
- Fill out my online contact form
- Learn more about me and my journey as a teen therapist
- Begin living your life freely!
Other Mental Health Services Offered at Creative Counseling and Wellness
At my Louisiana practice I specialize in working with teens and their families. I work with a wide variety of individuals such as: LGBTQ+ Teens, Teens with Anxiety, Theater Teens, Creative/Artistic Teens, Teens Questioning Gender Identity, High Achieving Teens, Teens with Social Anxiety, and Teens Struggling with Perfectionism. My own own life and experience gives me a unique perspective that lends itself to working with teens especially. I also provide services for adult counseling. Reach out today!
Need More Support?
Does your child or teen need extra support? Head to my About Me page to learn more or contact me today! I will ensure that they have a safe space to explore their identity.