Parenting Gay and Lesbian Teens

Younger and younger, teens are "coming out" while still at home.

Posted Jul 22, 2010

Whether you agree with your child's decision or not, more children are "coming out" younger than ever before. There's no reason to believe more children are gay, lesbian or bisexual. According to family therapists like Rebecca Harvey, author of "Nurturing Queer Youth", adolescents finally have a language to describe their feelings. They know they're "different" than their heterosexual peers, and fortunately have places to turn for the information they need to understand their thoughts and feelings. It's difficult in a world where children see mostly heterosexual couples to understand how they can navigate the turbulent waters of their emerging sexuality. That's why parents are so important.

It used to be if you knew you were gay or lesbian, you'd wait until you'd left home, then tell your parents. The process of coming out happened later, often after torturous years of feeling out of place with your peers, and afraid to be honest with your parents. According to research by Michael LaSala, these days more and more families who assumed their children were heterosexual are having to adjust while their teenagers are still at home and just beginning to date same sex partners. No longer can parents assume their child's sexual orientation is what they expected it to be, nor that their child will keep it hidden when it isn't.

The good news is that many families make this adjustment just fine. In fact many no longer assume their child will be heterosexual, but understand that a child's sexual orientation is something many boys and girls question at one time or another. That doesn't mean that parents aren't still confused, maybe embarrassed, blaming of themselves or others. Those are normal reactions. They needn't be harmful to the child if parents get the information and support they need to understand what their child is experiencing.

There are many things parents can do to help their children. Understanding how important they are to helping their children adjust is crucial. The parents that both Harvey and LaSala meet have lessons to teach us all. Here's what they advise.

First, understand that this is about the child, not about the parent. A child's sexual orientation isn't the result of something that parents did, or didn't do. No one made the child gay. In the broad spectrum of who we are as people, our sexual orientation, and the gendered roles we play, are fluid.

Second, parents need to deal with their disappointment and fears. Many parents report worries that their child will be lonely, and wonder if this means they'll never have grandchildren. Whatever a parent's worry, it's best to remember that children do better when they get the support they need.

Third, children adjust better when their parents are their loudest advocates. There are many famous people who we respect regardless of their sexual orientation. When we advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians, regardless of the personal beliefs we hold, we ensure a world that is socially just and fair. Parents need to show their tolerance, and model it for others, by telling others about their kids and standing up for their rights.

No amount of worry or condemnation is going to change the way children express themselves sexually. The personal values of parents aren't going to influence their children's sexual orientation. But they can ensure their children are happy and resilient enough to weather the prejudice they are likely to experience. For the younger and younger children who are coming out they need to know their parents will accept and love them, no matter who they choose as their sexual partners.