It’s hard to believe the new school year is beginning. For some this brings the excitement of re-connection with friends, the fun of stationery shopping and the thrill of new learning. For others, however, this time of year can be like the chilling anticipation of a judge handing down a sentence for 10 months of fear, apprehension, emotional pain and loneliness.
There can be many reasons a child or teen may struggle with going back to school. For LGBTQ kids, often the reality of bullying, harassment and internal struggle against subtle or overt homo-phobia or trans-phobia is woven through the assemblies, classroom dramas and algebra formulas.
For parents or anyone supporting a child or teen who is experiencing stress related to entering the school environment, this can be unnerving – to send your child out into a world that they may not trust to be safe for them.
If you are a parent, counsellor or just someone who cares about an LGBTQ child or teen bracing to go back to school, here are some foundation tips for how you can be part of a crucial support net for your child.
7 things to do to create a safer school year for your child.
- Engage with active listening.
Approach the youth with respect, care and affirmation to understand their worries, hopes and fears about school. Building a relationship with open and accepting lines of communication is the foundation of being able to help them.
- Don’t make it all about gender identity and sexual orientation.
Being the super supportive parent or friend is cool. However it can get a little old and off-putting if every time they see you you’re asking about their worries or trying to be hip on the queer lingo. Gender identity and sexual orientation may be central features in the youth’s life for awhile, especially if they’re working at figuring it out, but there is still a lot more going on for them than just that: haircuts, music, sports teams, the right binder, smartphone updates, etc.
- Get permission to advocate for them.
Being an ally to find resources and address struggles that come up is a key role you can play – however, privacy is still a golden right and rule. A young person deciding when and how to come out in various relationships in their life needs as much as possible to have the reins of who gets this information and when – for their own confidence, self-growth and safety. Talk carefully together about how they would like you to answer questions coming in, or to put information out for them.
- If you have permission – get proactive to know the resources and key allies in the school.
Be prepared by knowing ahead of time the policies in place around protection from discrimination and bullying. Find positive resources to support the youth, such as gay-straight alliances, affirming counselors and teachers, other LGBTQ staff or senior students who may be mentors or safe people to approach if needs arise. This way if any vulnerability comes, the work of knowing where to turn will already be done.
- Help the key adults at school know how to best support this child.
Every child is unique and will respond to different kinds of support. Intentionally having conversations early about the vulnerabilities and talents of this child will help teachers also know where to put support. Giving teachers a chance to ask questions also allows for greater understanding rather than assumptions to be guiding the relationship that forms between student and teacher.
- Stay in school yourself.
Continue to be curious and open to learn with your growing child as they explore this core area of their life. There are ever-growing resources in the form of books, websites, videos and others to talk to (see website below).
- Expand your own support net.
A lot of wise and compassionate people have walked this path or some part of it and can offer suggestions, information and a solid presence when vulnerabilities arise for your family. Find and connect with your local resource centres, parent or family support groups – whether local or online (see website below).
School is stressful and challenging enough for any child – proactively building in protective factors to create a resilient and affirming culture around LGBTQ children and teens gives them the best chance of entering the school year with confidence, positivity and room to grow.
Here are some resources to help support youth in your local community:
http://community.pflag.org/intlfamilygroups – Parents, family and friends united with LGBTQ people – listings for group contacts around the world.
https://www.trevorspace.org/ – safe social networking site for LGBTQ youth ages 13 – 24 (and their allies).