According to StopBullying.gov, “When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.”
However, LGBTQIA+ kids are bullied at more than twice the rate of their cisgender peers, or those who identify with the gender assigned at birth. Bullying continues to be a significant mental and physical health issue for those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
Furthermore, we as parents have no control over what happens at school. How can we ensure that the adults at school respond quickly and consistently? What can you do if your LGBTQIA+ child is bullied at school?
Listen, Accept, Acknowledge, and Reassure
One of the reasons a child who identifies as LGBTQIA+ may not go to their parents about bullying is if they haven’t yet told them about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
When they are visibly upset or have clearly been physically bullied, listen to them. Offer reassurance, and acknowledge that you understand that kids are bullied for many different reasons, including sexual orientation or gender identity.
Saying the words in a non-judgmental, accepting way may give them the courage to talk to you about who they are. This was the subject of a “Beyond Risk and Back” podcast featuring Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey as he spoke with LGBTQ+ expert John Sovec.
Acknowledging that you love them as they are and that bullying is not okay can make a world of difference to a teen. They often feel isolated in addition to being bullied more than their heterosexual counterparts. This can lead to serious psychological consequences, including depression and suicidal ideation.
A 2019 study found that High School aged LGBTQIA+ suicide ideation and suicides were at 29.4%, compared to only 6.4% amongst their cisgender peers. Having the support and acceptance of a parent or other adults in their lives can literally save their lives.
Let Them Talk About Their Experiences and Feelings
When your child is bullied, it is not time to run out and execute your mama or papa bear vigilante justice. They are coming to you for love and support. They need you to listen, to be a shoulder to cry on, someone to confide in.
You can encourage them to share their experiences and feelings, as discussed on a Beyond Risk and Back podcast hosted by Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey as he interviewed Paul Gross.
In doing so, you may have greater empathy and understanding of the challenges they face in their lives and will face going forward. While no parent wants their child to go through something like this, the experience can help bring you closer together.
Document and Report Bullying
No matter how much your child does not want you to talk to administrators, counselors, or teachers at school for fear of worse consequences, documenting and reporting bullying is very important in keeping your child safe. For one thing, school personnel cannot do something about something they do not know about.
For another, being aware of the situation can help them keep an eye out for any future bullying. They can also identify safe places and supportive teachers that they can go to during the school day to seek refuge and comfort.
Because bullying someone for their sexual orientation or gender is bias-based bullying, those who bully verbally, physically, or online may also have legal consequences. This is another reason to document and report, because those who are repeat offenders need to be held accountable for their actions.
Help Them to Identify Adults at School Who Are Supportive
As one relatively small sample studied in 2015 notes, teachers at school who are aware and educated about the increased bullying of LGBTQIA+ students were also more supportive of those students.
Having allies at school and home is also correlated to better mental and physical health and lower instances of suicidal ideation and suicide. These students have better outcomes in school, including fewer absences and better grades, too. Parents can help to find resources and support for their child at school.
Encourage Your Child to Become an Activist
The opposite of bullying is activism. Schools can create awareness and policies about LGBTQIA+ students, but when the efforts come from peers, they are far more powerful and effective.
Activism takes the injury and negative memories about being bullied for who they are and turns them into empowerment and the ability to make a difference in their school and community. Activism is the ultimate reframe of a traumatic experience.
As a parent, you will not be able to protect your child or control their world. The one thing you can control is being there for them when they need you. Being willing to listen, not necessarily advise or try to tell them how they should feel, can help them feel validated and heard. In this world, unfortunately, for LGBTQIA+ teens, that is still all too rare of an experience.
What can you do when your LGBTQIA+ child is bullied at school? The first thing is to offer them unconditional love, acceptance, support, and a listening ear. When they are ready, always document and report each instance with school authorities, and find supportive teachers and staff members they can go to on-campus in time of need. Your child can change their experience from being a victim of bullying to being an activist to change society’s perception. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is an inclusive facility that can help your child no matter how they identify. We help them when they are struggling with substance abuse, mental health, cutting, suicidal ideations, and more. We also offer you as parents plenty of resources and involve you in your child’s healing. Contact our Estes Park, Colorado facility today at (303) 443-3343 to find out if our program is a right fit for your family.