Gay Teens Bullied to the Point of Suicide
Power of Parents, Continued
It wasn't easy. To cope with her negative feelings, Deon began working with the therapist, connected with PFLAG, and read up on gay issues. Bolstered by his mom's support, Rashad soon transferred to a more accepting high school. "I regained my confidence and started smiling more," he recalls. Now 19, Rashad is doing well as a sophomore at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Deon Davis played it exactly right, says clinical social worker Caitlin Ryan, PhD, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. After almost a decade of research on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens, Dr. Ryan's group has found a clear pattern: The more supportive the parents and family, the better kids do over the long run. "That doesn't necessarily mean changing your deeply held beliefs," Dr. Ryan explains. "It means finding a way to balance those beliefs with the love you have for your child."
Many parents, unwilling to believe that their child is gay, try to talk him out of it; they may tell him he's going through a phase, forbid him to discuss it, and keep him from reaching out to the gay community. Often, their motive is to protect their child from harassment. But this well-meaning approach tends to backfire, Dr. Ryan says, since the child interprets it as a rejection of his true self: If his parents won't accept him for what he is, who will?
As young adults, gay kids from highly rejecting families are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, almost six times as likely to be clinically depressed, and more than three times as likely to abuse drugs or be at high risk for HIV infection than those from families who are more accepting, Dr. Ryan's research has found. But even small changes can yield big results, she says -- children from families that are only moderately rejecting have significantly fewer problems.
Even parents who can't be fully accepting can find ways to be supportive. "You can say, 'I think this is wrong but I love you and I'm going to be here for you,'" Dr. Ryan suggests. "Be willing to listen. Give your child a hug."