It’s back to school time! For many of us that means shopping for school outfits, hitting the stores with a list of supplies to buy, and signing more paperwork than we really want to think about. For some of us, it also means connecting with our schools to ensure that school staff has been trained to support our LGBTQIA+ kids and crossing our fingers that our kids have a year free of bullying, discrimination, and heartbreak.
The bad news: In the wake of the election, hate crimes are up, acts of discrimination are up, and suicide rates are up. Anecdotally, I’m hearing that support groups and events that would see a couple hundred kids before the election are now seeing only a handful. That doesn’t mean that LGBTQIA+ kids have disappeared. It means that they don’t feel safe reaching out for support if it means they need to out themselves in the process. It means they don’t feel safe trusting their families, their friends, their friends’ parents. They don’t know when someone they’ve known their whole life is going to turn on them because of their identity.
That’s a heavy load to carry every day. When kids can’t let their guard down, that translates into higher rates of depression and anxiety, lower school attendance and graduation rates, and higher rates of suicide attempts.
The good news: There are resources in place to help our kids. Many schools have GSAs to help combat bullying and promote diversity affirmation in school. Pride events are a great place to let your guard down and celebrate your identity in a positive environment. Good guidance counselors and therapists can help our kids learn coping skills to deal with an unwelcoming world and handle the damage that’s been done.
Better news: As parents, there’s something we can do to help our kids before damage is done. And it’s something fun!
So here’s my thought. Schools are, by their nature, pretty structured and there isn’t a ton of social time. And whether we like it or not, teens are far more likely to turn to their peers than their parents when they’re in crisis. Our kids need a positive community of their peers, and we can give them the space to create it. Think of it as a community-based GSA (gender-sexuality alliance). One that is focused on providing a safe space for kids to hang out with peers they know are equally awesome, doing something they enjoy doing. Having fun and building community is the name of the game.
There are a lot of ways for a parent to start and facilitate a social club, but here are some ideas for structure:
- Consider using a neutral, easy to access location for kids to get together, like your local library or community center.
- Meet for 2-3 hours once or twice a month. Weekly is great if you can swing it, but I know how busy you are and how busy our kids are. Keep it fun, and that goes for you, too.
- Set clear rules for your club: You are not a trained therapist (unless you are!). You are a friendly listening ear. Rainbow and ally kids welcome. No one is required to out themselves in any way to participate. Respect chosen names and pronouns. Be kind. Play nice.
- Bring a bag of card and board games. Invite kids to bring craft supplies — knitting seems to be a thing right now!
- Don’t stop kids from talking about things that are affecting them, even when it goes negative, but encourage an overall balance of interaction.
- Keep a wide age range and allow flexibility for kids with different situations and abilities. There isn’t much out there for rainbow kids under the age of 13. If you can swing ages 10-18, you’ll give younger kids a chance to establish a supportive peer community, and maybe gain some “big brothers and sisters” to keep an eye out for them as they move up in school.
- Connect with your local schools and let them know that you’re doing this awesome thing. The school should be willing to put up a poster for you to let kids know where to find your Rainbow Club.
We have awesome kids. Our job is to help them see their own awesome!