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A back-to-school guide for LGBTQIA2S+ teens

A group of teens in face masks pose for a selfie.

Sept. 1, 2021—The start of a new school year can be exciting. Everything is new. Classmates. Friends. Teachers. Courses. Extracurriculars.

But getting the school year started can be challenging and stressful too, especially for LGBTQIA2S+ teens who are still learning how to navigate their identity in public. As a parent, you can help them find their way so they stay healthy, safe and supported.

Here are a few strategies that might help:

Talk it out. Sometimes LGBTQIA2S+ students worry about how they will be treated at school. Raise the subject gently and explore what's on their minds. Remember to lead with their concerns, not your own.

Be an advocate. Research your school's policies and resources for LGBTQIA2S+ kids. If there isn't good support at your child's school, use your voice as a parent to advocate for improvements.

Encourage healthy friendships. A teen with close friends is less likely to be bullied and has loyal peers to stand up for them. If they're having trouble connecting, see if their school has a GSA (Gender-Sexuality Alliance or Gay-Straight Alliance) club—or can start one. It can connect them with a valuable support network of new friends.

Help them let off steam. Tough things sometimes happen at school. Bullying, breakups, dealing with difficult classmates or teachers. Reassure your teen that their emotional reactions are valid. Then encourage positive ways of coping with stress. For instance, you could suggest listening to music, talking to a therapist, making art or just watching a favorite show to unwind.

Look for trusted adults. Sometimes, teens need to talk to someone other than a parent. A teacher, school nurse, counselor, librarian, coach or other trusted adult can help them cope with problems that arise in school. Encourage them to find those allies. It can also be helpful to connect them with organizations, resources and events where they can find other people who have gone through similar life experiences.

Nurture your child's potential as a mentor. If your teen already knows what it's like to come out at school and how to navigate the resulting responses, maybe they can help other LGBTQIA2S+ students too. That can be meaningful on both sides. For instance, they might be able to do that through the school's GSA, a poster campaign or an informal lunch group.

Watch out for warning signs. It's normal for teens to be moody. But keep an eye out for sudden or severe changes that could point to anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem or depression. Check in with your teen often—and get them any help they need right away.

Just be there. Knowing that they have a loving, safe and supportive family to come home to can make all the difference for your teen.

For more advice about navigating the new school year, check out groups like GLSEN or PFLAG.

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