If your teen came out to you, congratulate yourself. Your teen trusts and values you enough to tell you that their sexual orientation is different from many of their peers. Your teen talking to you openly about this speaks wonders for your relationship with them. You may not have been the first person they told, but that’s normal; a lot of teens “practice” coming out with peers before talking to their family members.
Perhaps your teen was “outed” to you, and you think they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual because of other information you have. Now is time to have a heart-to-heart talk. Nobody should tell you about your teen’s sexual orientation except your teen.
Sometimes the news comes as a shock, sometimes parents are unsurprised. But even parents who have no qualms at the idea of having a gay child usually have some feelings to work through. You may feel fine with their sexual orientation, but what about the rest of the world? What are they opening themselves up to? Will they be bullied at school? Will they be the victim of harrassment and discrimination in their adult life? Will they have children? Does this close doors in terms of careers, travel, or other life choices?
For parents who are not quite sure how they feel about having a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB *) child, or feel negatively about it, this can be even harder. Did you do something wrong? Could you have prevented this? Is this just a fad? How do you convince them otherwise? Is it possible to convince them otherwise? What if they bring home a boyfriend or girlfriend?
Let’s start with the basics: Your kid is still your kid. They are still smart, kind, generous, curious, funny, surprising, and/ or brave. (They still have all their flaws too.) This does not change any of that.
Yes, we do live in a world that can be quite cruel and prejudiced when it comes to sexual orientation. Depending on where you are geographically, your kid might even hear gay-bashing regularly at school. They might already be bullied for “seeming gay”. You can’t make everybody in the world more accepting, but you can be an advocate for your kid and for your community. We’ll talk more about that later.
One of the most important things is to be honest, but loving, with your reaction. Forcing a smile and saying, “That’s great!” while thinking inside, This is the worst thing she could have told me, isn’t going to fool anybody. However, getting angry at, or being disappointed in your kid for something they really, honestly, truly have no control over is not fair, and is only going to alienate them. Start with a hug and “I’m glad you told me.”
It’s okay to tell them that you’re worried about this (and people have many different worries), but the most important message to give first, last, and throughout is:
- I love you, no matter who you are sexually attracted to. Nothing will ever change the fact that you are my kid and I love you very much.
- While I might have concerns, the most important thing to me is that you are healthy and happy now, and in your adult life as well.
- I want you to feel free to come to me with questions or concerns. I can’t guarantee that I will know the answer, but we will work to find it together.
But could this just be a phase? How do you talk to them about relationships now? Who do you tell, and who do you hide it from? Should they come out at school? We will discuss these issues, and many more, in upcoming posts. In the mean time, please share any experiences or wisdom you have had.
*(Please note: We left out the “T” for transgender in “LGBT” because we’ll be addressing this in a separate series)