On the popular TV series Glee, Kurt Hummel is an openly gay high school student whose dad is learning to deal with his homosexuality. How would you handle having a teen who's gay?
"The most important thing parents of gay children can do is let the children know their sexuality is accepted by family," says Robert Black, 19, a gay college student who would have welcomed a show like Glee to open up a dialogue with his parents. “I wish my parents had done things differently to make my coming out to them easier,” reveals Black.
Accepting your child and educating yourself about homosexuality are important first steps. “Sexual interest is not a choice. It is a biological and hormonal drive," says psychologist William Allenbaugh, who became involved with gay, lesbian and transgender issues when families referred their children to him to “cure their gayness.”
Your child hasn't changed, but you may begin to see him/her differently. “Most parents go through a grieving process — shock, anger, grief... and hopefully, acceptance,” says Allenbaugh.
“Parents in this situation need support and education,” adds Dr. Frank J. Sileo, executive director for The Center for Psychological Enhancement. “Having a homosexual child can be confusing and overwhelming.”
Every child — regardless of sexuality — should be able to talk to a caring parent about sex, intimacy, relationships and boundaries. “Do your research,” says Black. “If you don’t understand something, you can't explain it to your child.”
“If you're freaking out about gay sex, that's your issue and not your child's.” says Dr. Sileo, who specializes in working with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. So educate yourself.
Dr. Sileo encourages families to reach out to national organizations such as PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and regional Pride Centers, as they are excellent resources for parents.
Allenbaugh agrees and also recommends Goofyfoot Press, which provides links for gay youth. “These resources help the child feel normal and accepted,” just as every teen wants to feel, says Allenbaugh.
“Talk to your gay child as you would your straight child,” advises Allenbaugh. Don't “shy away” from the sensitive topic of sex.
“Set the same limits regarding having sex, and set the same boundaries around relationships that you would with heterosexual children,” adds Dr. Sileo. When our children — gay or straight — trust us enough to talk about sex, we have opportunities to help keep them safe.
And talking openly educates parents as well, Dr. Sileo says. “When you take an interest in their new discovery, they are more likely to continue to share with you.”
While your teen explores his/her sexuality, be supportive, reserve judgment and listen. A gay teen will likely face prejudice and biases. Make sure those things don’t start with you.
“You may be unsure of your child’s sexuality, and your child may be unsure as well,” says clinical psychologist and teen expert Dr. John Duffy. “The best you can do is talk to your kids about sex and sexuality, and make homosexuality a part of that discussion.”
And keep that discussion open and ongoing. “Glee, for example, provides opportunities to talk about sex,” says Dr. Duffy. “Listen in a non-judgmental way to what your child has to say.” Position yourself to be that consultant and confidante your child can come to with questions about sex and sexuality.
Whatever your child’s sexuality, stay involved. “If children know parents are truly interested in this aspect of their lives, it opens the door for continued communication and trust,” says Allenbaugh. “Parents should not be judgmental. They should be good listeners who offer choices and provide information to assist the child in gaining knowledge."
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