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Back To School 2013: A Guide For Parents Of LGBT Kids
Hard to believe it's mid-August and in some areas of the country and world, kids have already taken up residence back in the classrooms. I hear ya: big sighs of relief that summer boredom has passed. But as we're celebrating, let's keep in mind how difficult it can be for kids to navigate peer pressure, bullying and judgment after a carefree summer. These kids are our responsibility, so let's buck up and make their transition to the school year as safe and smooth as possible. Which leads me to the gist of this article: how to make the school year safe for your LGBT kid.
There is no magic wand to ward off bullies, snide remarks or narcissistic opinions of those who don't understand
homosexuality or the LGBT world. The only way to navigate through it is with love, understanding, and a few good support mechanisms.
1. Support starts at home! Even if you're still in crisis, confusion, or coming to terms with your child's sexuality, remember how you felt as a child when you thought your own parents didn't understand or support you. It wasn't the best feeling in the world, was it? Whether those moments led to shouting matches, tears, or standing in the quiet, contrary corners of "I'm right and you're wrong," none of us relishes the feeling of parental rejection. Now, as parents ourselves, it's time to support our children, and beyond a shadow of a doubt, let them know we've got their backs.
2. It's not you, it's them. By having a solid and supportive talk with your child about the fact that their sexuality has nothing to do with others or their opinions, you begin to lay the groundwork for a confident kid. While it seems elementary to have this conversation, it truly is important. Even more important is to teach your child not to use the "It's just your opinions, your upbringing and your weird beliefs" mentality as a defense mechanism. A positive approach is "We're all as different as the back to school clothes we bought, and isn't that cool?"
3. Know when to hold them, know when to scold them. Now I'm not advocating fights, screaming matches, or stirring up trouble at school. However, there is a beauty that exists in powerfully standing your ground, even as a child, teen, and young adult. This takes parental finesse and confidence to help your child master this type of approach. However, the lifelong gift of confidence you bestow on your child that enables them to speak their mind in a respectful and healthy manner is a life lesson worth practicing.
In fact, that's exactly what I would advocate: role playing with your child some of the potential situations they might find themselves in throughout their school days and beyond. You can't prepare for every scenario, but the support your child will feel is priceless when they see your willingness to go this extra mile.
4. Be bold and give their teacher an apple. I'm not being literal about the apple, but it couldn't hurt to take a real one along with what I'm about to suggest. Take the courageous step and meet your child's teachers. Don't stop there. Talk to them and listen. Share with them the unique light your child brings into the world because of their sexuality. Then ask them for concerns, feedback, and how they'd like to be supported.
Even if they are not of like mind, or not supportive of LGBT individuals, it is their responsibility to ensure that your child receives an education and is kept safe when they are in their care at school.
If you achieve nothing more than an understanding of where they stand, then you'll be more prepared to navigate the waters of the school year. Same goes for making a personal connection with the school counselors, principles, anyone and everyone your child will be interacting with. One not of caution: make sure your child knows you are going to these lengths, and that they are on board. Nothing would be worse than for them to find out you went about this task as if you were on a covert assignment from the Gay Mafia. (Which doesn't exist. I don't think).
5. Find solace in support. This tip may seem obvious, but for many, until they ask, they don't know that there are numerous groups right in their own communities that support LGBT Youth and their families. Here are a few:
• Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians & Gays
• Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
• GSANetwork (Gay, Straight Alliance Network)
• Trevor Project
• Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
• It Get’s Better Project
• I’m From Driftwood
• GLBT National Help Center
By no means is this list complete. There are numerous, support groups that make it their mission to ensure that schools are a safe place not only for LGBT kids, but for all kids — regardless of sexual orientation.
As a parent myself, raising two teens, I've come to realize, as most parents do, that you can't protect them. You can only prepare them. I happened to be at the funeral of a good friend's mother not long ago, and as her brother was giving the eulogy, he made a profound statement: As parents, we all want what's best for our children. Ironically, as parents, we don't always want what's right for our children.
As the 2013-14 school year kicks off, I challenge all parents, regardless of their child's sexual orientation, to hold a special space in your hearts to do what's right for your children. And how do you do that? Enable the lines of communication to always be open and never, ever closed.