Family Support for Gay Teens Saves Lives

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Self-blame can also be "a villain" in this process, says Michael LaSala, professor of Social Work at Rutgers University and author of "Coming Out, Coming Home". "Parents who blamed themselves are most likely to experience anxiety and depression, but parents don't make a kid gay."

Having a confidant or a network of support, such as through an organization like PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is critical for helping parents accept and embrace their child's sexuality, he says.

In response to several high-profile cases of bullying, many schools are doing a better job of educating students on these issues, Kaslow says, but there isn't often a venue for parents to have the kind of support and education they need to learn how to be there for their LGBT child.

Providing the tools and the community that parents need is part of the goal of Ryan's Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.

"Sometimes parents don't realize that they are tolerating their child's sexuality, but not really accepting it," Ryan says.

"That's the exciting part. We've worked with ethnically and religiously diverse families who never realized before that their reaction put their kids at risk, that their behavior matters, and that they could help their child by changing it," she says.

Educating parents is just one part of the equation, however, notes LaSala.

In his own research interviewing the 65 LGBT youths and their parents, he found that for some, even parental support could not undo the damage done by the bullying these kids received from their peers.

"Certainly a supportive family has a protective effect, but some kids [in my study] still had mental health problems...even a great family will not always be enough to neutralize years of abuse at the hands of their peers."

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