If your child comes to you and tells you that he or she is gay, you might experience a wide range of emotions. You might feel relief and thankfulness that your teen felt able to come to you. You might feel frightened for his or her future. You may feel confused, disappointed, or even angry. It’s likely that your teen is also experiencing some of these feelings, both positive and negative. As his or her parent, it’s vital that you work through your own feelings so that you can properly support your child. Here are some ways you can support your gay teen who seems to be struggling.
Assure Your Child of Your Love
One major concern of teens who are thinking about coming out as gay is whether their parents will accept them. It would be absolutely devastating for your gay teen if you were to withhold your love and acceptance of who they are. No matter how you feel, the most important thing is to tell your teen, “I accept you and I love you,” once you learn that they are gay. Remember, they are the same child that they were yesterday, last week, last month, and five years ago. Nothing has changed other than you knowing more information than you did then.
Even if your personal feeling is that being gay is somehow wrong, this should not impact the love that you have for your gay teen, and it’s important that you let them know that and show them your support. While teens who are LBGTQ are more at risk of suicide ideation and attempts than the general population, the risk is mitigated tremendously when his or her parents and family are supportive.
Get Support for Yourself
You might have a series of emotions to work through once you find out that your child is gay. Finding a support system to help you is an important part of being available to support your gay teen. Even if the theory of having a gay child did not bother you in the past, actually finding out that this is the case can bring about surprisingly strong emotions. On top of those emotions, you might feel guilty for feeling this way; this is particularly true if you’ve never considered yourself to be intolerant of the LGBTQ community.
Lean on your spouse or partner, a few good friends, or your extended family. Your city might also have a chapter of PFLAG, which is an organization that exists to support the parents and families of those who are gay. If you’re having a hard time figuring out your feelings, find a counselor who is experienced with helping the parents of gay teens.
Get Support for Your Gay Teen
Similarly, your gay teen might need a support system outside of you. He or she will likely want to spend time with people who have gone through the coming out process, as well as those who have not come out yet. A support group or a club for LBGTQ youth might be the answer. Many schools have a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), and if your teen’s school does not, he or she might ask the administration about starting one. There are also churches and other places of worship that support LBGTQ people. If you attend a church that does not, ask your teen if he or she would feel more comfortable at a different type of congregation. Even if you do not go to church at all, joining a youth group at one that is supportive might be helpful for your teenager.
A counselor can also help your child work through his or her feelings. You can ask your teen to go for individual counseling, or your whole family can go together so you can all learn how to best support your child. A combination of both approaches can also be helpful.
Explore Safety Issues
Unfortunately, teens who identify as gay can be victims of hate crimes. It’s important to understand the reality of the situation where you live. Some areas are more or less accepting than others, though of course there is always a chance of being involved in a hate crime even in the most accepting places. One place where your gay teen should never feel threatened is at school. Look into your school’s bullying and harassment policies, and make sure your child knows how to report bullying at the first hint that it is starting.
Also, make your gay teen aware of cyberbullying, which is bullying that takes place via electronic media, generally over text or the Internet. Social media platforms, blogs, and chat rooms can be rife with bullying. In some cases, this can extend to physical bullying. Also, cyberbullying can degrade your teen’s self-esteem to the point where he or she might become depressed or even suicidal. Keep an eye on your teenager’s social media use and talk to him or her about the importance of reporting all bullying, whether in person or over the Internet.
Continue to Parent Your Child
One important point to keep in mind is that you need to parent your gay teen the same way whether he or she is gay or straight. Sometimes, in an effort to be very tolerant, parents go to the extreme of allowing their gay adolescents more freedom than they’d allow their straight adolescents. For example, while it’s true that your gay teen is not going to get pregnant or impregnate someone else, you still might not want to go back on whatever rules regarding boyfriend/girlfriend sleepovers that you have with your other (straight) teenagers. And if your teen brings home a partner whom you disapprove of, you can still express your feelings in an appropriate way without feeling like you’re homophobic. You will need to talk about sex with your gay teen so that it’s relevant to them.
You’ll also need to come up with guidelines on some situations that you might not have had to consider before. For example, will you allow your lesbian daughter to go to sleepovers with other girls? Will you let your gay son travel overnight with a group of friends who are all boys? These are issues that you’ll need to talk about frankly with your teen.
Parenting a teen is not easy, and when your teenager is gay, it can add another element of difficulty to an already tricky phase of life. Keep the lines of communication open and show your child unconditional love. Get yourself and your gay teen the appropriate support and don’t be afraid to consult with professionals and others in your situation to help you navigate your feelings.