So your teen came out to you, and you have reacted to their news. Now what do you do? Do you mention it if they don’t bring it up again? Do you encourage them to come out to other family and friends? Do you talk about it at the dinner table?
This will all depend on your teen and their comfort level, but it’s a good idea to get an idea of who they plan to communicate this to. This can range from keeping it a secret between the two of you for a while, to their posting their new sexual orientation on Facebook for friends and family to see.They may have already told close friends or other family; don’t feel disappointed if they didn’t come to you first. If they waited a bit, this may simply mean that your reaction is very important to them, and they wanted to see how others reacted first.
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: never “out” your teen to anybody, within or outside the family, without their explicit permission. Even if your teen seems very comfortable and open with the news, talk to them before letting anyone else know.
They may want your help coming out to another parent or family member; anything from being a silent, supportive figure to breaking the news for them. Like coming out to you in the first place, this shows enormous trust in your respect and support for them, and you should help them if you’re comfortable with it. First get a clear idea of the setting, language, and audience they desire. If your teen will be the one delivering the news, define how much they want you to step in if that person reacts negatively. Discuss how they will cope with a neutral or negative reaction, and the emotions those reactions can cause. It’s much better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
Sometimes they want to tell a family member that you think will be hurt or react badly to the news, often somebody older. It’s important to share your concerns and experiences with them, but in the end it’s their decision. You may be pleasantly surprised! I’ve heard numerous stories of grandparents or other older relatives- who everyone thought would react with disappointment or confusion- accepting the news with grace and turning into strong advocates for their grandkids.
Sometimes family members will have a negative response. Once they have had a chance to express their doubts and worries (appropriately), see if this topic can be made “off-limits” so your teen (and you) don’t have to keep hearing about their reaction. Or if they feel they haven’t been heard, see if your teen will allow that family member to gather their thoughts and deliver them, at another time, in a calm and respectful manner.
If there is a family member who insults, belittles, or otherwise harasses your kid about their sexual orientation, they should not be allowed to see your teen until they can learn to control themselves, or your teen requests a meeting with them.
You may even be accused by a family member of somehow “causing” your kid to be gay. There is zero scientific evidence to show that different parenting styles can cause people to turn out gay, lesbian, or bisexual. There are some old theories from Freud to this effect; they are still bandied about but were debunked long ago.
Many teens want to come out to peers at school, and this can be very worrisome for parents. School atmospheres vary in their climate for gay teens; some are supportive, with many “out” gay students who mingle peacefully with their heterosexual peers. In some schools, gay students- or students who are even rumored to be gay- are harassed mercilessly. Your teen will know what the school atmosphere is around sexual orientation.
It is their decision as to whether they want to come out to people at school. If they want to come out to just a select few, they still run a risk of being outed to the entire school. Some friends are great at keeping secrets and some are not; discuss with them who they think would be a good choice to confide in.
We will address what to do if your child is bullied at school about their sexual orientation in the next post.
In the meantime, any stories of family reactions to coming out, tips on communication to families about sexual orientation, or other thoughts?