School can be a challenging environment for children who identify as LGBTQ+, especially if they are harassed, discriminated against, or face a lack of resources. In this Verywell Family article, Zishan Khan. MD, and Brandi Garza, LPC, discuss what to do if children are bullied at school because of their sexual orientation.
Your child comes home from school, their face drawn, hands gripped together. As you walk back from the bus stop, you stop to ask what’s wrong. In a small voice they tell you: Someone made fun of them because one of their “friends” told the class they were gay.
Alternatively, you might go to your child’s room to say goodnight and find them crying in bed. A quick survey of their phone shows that they are a victim of cyberbullying by one of their peers, and the hurtful comments center around their sexuality.
The Trevor Project, a leader in LGBTQ+ youth resources, defines bullying as, “Aggressive, repetitive behavior that is based on a real and/or perceived power differential.” StopBullying.gov explains that kids who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to be targeted by bullying.
As parents, we always want to keep our children safe and happy. It begs the question: What can parents say when their kids are bullied for their sexual orientation?
How Bullying Affects LGBTQ+ Kids
School can be a challenging environment for children who identify as LGBTQ+, especially if they are harassed, discriminated against, or face a lack of resources. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, queer children are bullied at nearly double the rate (32%) of those who identify as straight (17.1%). The Trevor Project recently released a study indicating that the majority of LGBTQ+ youth reported being bullied in 2021, either in school or online.
Zishan Khan, MD, a child psychiatrist at Mindpath Health, explains that bullying often results in a child feeling isolated. It’s up to parents to show their children that they are not alone.
“Provide reassurance to the child that they will always be loved unconditionally by their family,” Dr. Khan says. “It is crucial to make certain that your child know that there are plenty of people that care about them.”
When offering guidance to your child, Dr. Khan advises to be an active listener so that your child knows they can always come to you with their worries.
How Can My Child Respond to Bullies?
Dr. Khan says that the best way for parents to help their children is teaching them how to disengage from a damaging situation, and seek the support of a friend, teacher, or counselor.
Brandi Garza, LPC, at Mindpath Health, notes that parents should teach their children to verbally stand up for themselves while actively disengaging. “Phrases like ‘don’t talk to me like that’ or ‘stop harassing me’ should be practiced,” she says.
Should I Tell the School?
If the bullying comes from a classmate, it is important parents discuss it with the school administration, teachers, and/or counselors. School should be a safe environment, and it is beneficial for your child’s educators to be aware of any situation that might threaten a student’s safety.
“Parents should realize that their children’s school is the best place to implement change and offer further support outside of their home,” Dr. Khan explains. “It may also be necessary to have a school resource officer made aware of the situation, in case the bullying becomes physical in nature.”
It is essential to know your child’s legal rights as they pertain to bullying. “Every state has bully laws,” Garza points out, adding that school districts typically list those policies in their code of conduct or a student handbook. Knowing these laws can help parents make informed decisions about responding to isolated or ongoing instances of bullying.
What Should I Do If the Bullying Continues?
If the bullying persists even after attempting to diffuse the situation, it is important for parents and caregivers to escalate the conversation. Garza recommends formal reporting to the child’s school, complete with any documentation you might be able to compile, such as screenshots if bullying is happening online.
It is important to be proactive if your child comes to you after repeated instances of bullying. “If no one takes further action when the bullying continues, it only reinforces the child’s [false] belief that they are all alone, especially if there are no consequences for the bully,” Dr. Khan warns.
While it might sound extreme, Garza explains that involving law enforcement might be the safest option in places hostile to LGBTQ+ youth. She advises parents to continue escalating their reports if they feel the school is not responsive to their concerns.
“In cases of cyberbullying, parents should be aware that they have a right to contact police,” Garza adds. This also helps establish a paper trail in the event your child isn’t the only one being bullied.
Read the full Verywell Family article with sources.