Parent supporting teenager as they explore their gender and sexuality
How to Understand and Support your Teenager to Reduce Tension and Increase Connection 

How do I know if My Teenager is Exploring their Gender and Sexuality?

Have you noticed your teenager experimenting with the they way they dress? How about trying out how it feels to identify with different pronouns? Are they exploring the way they express their gender on social media? If you have noticed your teenager experimenting with gender expression through aspects of their identity such as fashion, pronouns, and traditionally “gendered” behavior, you may feel uncertain about how to understand and support your child at this time.

You may find yourself wondering how this is impacting your teenager. Are they questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation?  Their comments and behaviors may make you feel worried, anxious, or even angry. This can lead you to react in ways that make you and your teenager feel distant from one another. In these moments, you may suddenly find yourself feeling uncertain how to best respond. If your goal Is to figure out how to best support your teen, then you are in the right place.

How will this article help me?

As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to support your teenager. This can be especially true as they explore their gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s important to support and care for their safety, psychological, and physical health while navigating these sensitive topics. This article will provide tips and guidance on how to navigate these important developmental topics.

How Do I Support My Teenager As They Experiment with their Gender and/or Sexuality?

Unsurprisingly, teenagers naturally experiment to discover their personal sense of self and identity. However, as a parent, it can be challenging to know how to respond when this exploration includes gender and sexuality. Most parents hold a variety of thoughts and beliefs about gender identity or sexual orientation. Remember, these attitudes will impact how you feel about and interact with your teenager about sensitive topics. Below, I’ll talk you through how to navigate these beliefs. This is especially important when they contrast with your teenager’s needs for support.

Initially, these topics may feel uncertain or scary. However, the reality is that gender identity and sexual orientation are topics your teenager is thinking about. They’re likely talking about it with their friends, seeing it on social media, and exploring it for themselves. It’s not a foreign topic for them.  Therefore, it doesn’t have to be for you either. Instead of experiencing fear, vulnerability, or uncertainty about how to navigate these topics, try the simple steps in this article. They can help you release that tension and bring you closer to your teenager.

Issues of gender and sexuality can feel overwhelming to navigate as a parent. That overwhelm can keep you feeling worried and anxious. Instead, overcoming the tension can be the very thing that brings you closer to your teenager.   

Granted, this can feel like a difficult and scary topic to navigate in conversations with your teen. That’s why I created this simple guide. It can help you increase your confidence by understanding the cause of your anxiety. Clarity can help you to move toward creating a space to talk with your teen about gender and sexuality journey.

Three Simple Steps To Support Your Teenager As They Explore Their Gender and/or Sexuality

These three simple steps can help you respond in with support as your teen explores gender and/or sexuality:

1. Recognize And Name Your Fear.

First, take a few minutes. Identify specifically what causes your fearfulness to address these topics of gender identity and sexual orientation.  Recognize the cause of hesitation to ease anxiety and show your teenager care. Identify specific fears if struggling to accept your teenager’s gender or sexual identity. Often fear is related to worries of being a good parent. Naming fear can challenge it and help support your teen. It is natural to feel worried. Acknowledge this as a first step to move towards supporting your teen in the way they need most.

2. Accept That Exploration Is The Way To Discovery.

Remember, you yourself likely went through some form of exploration and experimentation to understand yourself. These exploratory experiences helped you discover yourself. The same is true for your teenager’s discovery of their gender and sexual identity. After all, gender and sexuality are not exceptions. As in all areas of self discovery, we may need to “try on” and explore various paths and parts of ourselves in order to discover who we truly are. Allow exploration and approach gender and sexuality conversations like any other important topic. Tune into your teenager’s needs. Create a space where they feel safe and heard. Most importantly, show and remind them that you will love them and be there for them no matter what. Click the link below to learn more about how to communicate effectively with your teenager.

3. Do Your Homework.

It’s ok to not know everything, but don’t excuse yourself from learning. Being honest about what you do not know can help your teenager feel safe. However, ensure that does not become an excuse to stay uninformed. Use resources to gain awareness about gender and sexuality, which will help you connect more deeply with your teenager.

Remember, it can feel refreshing for your teenager to see you as the learner. It will be meaningful for your teen to see you educating yourself about something so important to them. You can begin by exploring expressions of gender and sexuality through this interactive worksheet: GenderBread Person Worksheet

Some Important Gender and Sexuality Terminology

It can also be valuable to increase your awareness about some important terms related to these topics. This includes an awareness of the differences between one’s gender identity and sexual orientation.    

Gender identity: who you feel you are at your core, whether it’s male, female, neither, or both.

Non-binary: gender identity isn’t exclusively male or female, and may experience their gender as both male and female, or they may experience it as neither (agender) 

Transgender (sometimes shortened to the term “trans”): identifying with a gender that is different from the one you were assigned at birth

Sexual orientation: who you’re attracted to on a physical level.

Fluid:refers to a person who experiences changes in their sexual attraction over time and/or depending on the situation.

Where To Turn For Additional Gender and Sexuality Information

These are just a few of the important terms to understand and familiarize yourself with to support your teenager. It can feel overwhelming. You may feel like you’re having to learn a whole new language. However, expertise is not required. Moderate knowledge can go a long way in helping you to connect with your teenager. This guide may prove to be a helpful tool for growing more familiar with some terminology and other helpful information.

Teenager Gender and Sexuality Exploration: In Summary

Navigating the topics of gender identity and sexual orientation can be difficult for parents. However, it is  important to support and understand your teenager as they explore these aspects of themselves. Doing so can help to cultivate a feeling of safety for your teen.  It doesn’t have to be overwhelming to take steps forward in creating a safe space for this with your teenager.  Remember, taking these three simple steps will help you to overcome the difficulties that may be having you feeling stuck and move you toward a place of deeper connection with your teenager.

By recognizing and naming your fears, accepting that exploration is a normal part of growing up, and creating a safe and open space for conversation, you can be the supportive and loving parent your teenagers needs. Additionally, there may be times when it feels helpful to have the support of a trained therapist to come alongside you and your teenager. If this is something that you feel could be of help in this journey, I would be happy to schedule a consultation to see if therapy might be a helpful resource for you and your teenager. Here Counseling has multiple therapists who specialize in LGBTQIA+ issues and working with LGBTQIA+ individuals. Click here to schedule a free consultation with a therapist today.


I help teens and couples decrease anxiety in order to find meaningful connection