For many LGBTQ youths, the act of “coming out” to their parents that they are gay is nerve-racking.
They may have already told some friends, but coming out to you, their parents, is a whole other matter. Worries about being accepted or loved by you afterwards will probably be on their minds.
They may be nervous, anxious, even scared to tell you something that they have kept hidden—perhaps for years.
You may very well have a wide range of emotions during these discussions.
For obvious reasons, this won’t be an easy conversation for either of you. How you respond to your teen’s revelation is critical.
Here are several tips to help you respond sensibly.
One of the key things that you can do as a parent is to listen to your teen. This means really listening, as this may well be one of the most important conversations that you will ever have together.
Keep in mind that most likely your teen has been working up the courage to have this conversation with you for a while. Give them the space to be heard and get everything off their chest.
Some ideas for how to do this include:
- If you can’t talk when they approach you, negotiate and commit to another time.
- Remember what you need when you want to be heard. You teen now needs this from you.
- Stay focused on your teen. Stop what you’re doing; eliminate distractions such as cell phones or the TV.
- Move to someplace quiet where you won’t be interrupted.
- Refrain from jumping in or interrupting.
- Ask them to repeat anything that you don’t understand.
- As they talk, remember to breathe.
- Your respect for your teen will be vital. If you already suspected or have known that your teen is gay, don’t stop the conversation because of this. Act as if you don’t know.
- If your teen’s request to talk with you comes as a surprise, it’s important that you don’t overreact. Respond in your normal tone of voice and stay in control of your emotions.
- If you struggle with what they say, ask to take a short break. Let your teen know that what they are saying is very important and that you just you need a moment to process and absorb what you heard.
- Then step away, breath slowly and deeply and remember that this is your child. Once you are ready, re-engage in the conversation.
- When your child seems to be finished, ask and make sure. Tell them you are aware of how difficult this disclosure must have been for them.
- If you feel overwhelmed by what you are hearing, tell them you need more time to process and to think about your questions. Negotiate and commit to a time to meet again.
- Let them know if you have any questions and if it’s not appropriate at the time, negotiate and commit to a time to meet again and continue with your questions.
- Ask brief questions one at a time. Don’t badger or interrogate. Remember, your teen probably doesn’t have all of the answers either.
- Check in with your teen to make sure they are not getting overwhelmed with having to answer you. If necessary, negotiate and commit to a time to meet again.
- It is appropriate and important that you to ask about their safety at school – have they been bullied or shunned by peers or school personnel. Has their physical safety been threatened in or out of school? Have they been discriminated against in the community?
- The teenage years are a time for self-discovery so assume your teen is still learning who they are, regardless of either of you knowing for some time that they are gay.
Tell Your Teen You Support Them
Thank them for having the courage to speak to you about this. It should not be understated that coming out to you was probably one of the scariest things they have ever done.
If you are unsure about conflicts with religious or personal beliefs, try to set that aside for the time being. It’s important for your teen to hear that you support, respect and love them regardless of sexual orientation.
Being a teen is never easy. However, coming out as a gay teen to one’s parents can either be an affirming and wonderful experience or traumatic. How you respond to your child when this happens matters greatly.
Resources and Support
Learn more about what being gay means by doing your research.
Helpful information resources:
Also, you and your teen will probably need support as you navigate this process. Don’t be afraid to get help from a professional therapist. Consider going to individual and family therapy together. That way you have will professional support and guidance as you both seek to understand what this means for each one of you. And remember, they’re still your child!
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