How Do I Talk To My Teen About Sexual Orientation?
Posted by: Sue Atkins
Part of being a teen is figuring out who you are — including your sexual orientation and gender identity.
No matter what your teen’s identity, they’re likely to have many questions as they explore who they are and it’s a good idea to get clear yourself as a parent about sexual orientation and gender identity as they are 2 different things.
LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual are labels that describe sexual orientation, just like straight or heterosexual.
Questioning means figuring out your sexual orientation or gender identity. queer has many different meanings, but it’s often used as an umbrella term to describe a sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender presentation that’s not straight and cisgender.
Even though sexual orientation and gender identity are 2 separate things, many people who are lesbian, gay, or bi and those who are transgender or gender nonconforming have similar experiences growing up. They may grow up with a strong sense that they’re different from the people around them, and fear rejection from their families and friends.
If your teen has recently come out and you’re finding it hard, know that you’re not alone. You may feel worried about your teen’s mental health or their acceptance in your family, in school or in your wider community, or you may feel guilty for your attitude toward LGBT individuals in the past, like using words that you now know are hurtful. But it’s never too late to show your support and create safe spaces for your teen.
Finding a community of parents of LGBTQ children can be a big help in working through these issues. PFLAG is a great resource for families of LGBTQ youth.
Here is a very helpful article from Planned Parenthood
When it comes to sexual orientation, try not to assume that you know anyone’s orientation until they’ve told you themselves. While it’s true that there are more straight people than people with other identities, assuming that all people are straight until they say otherwise sends the message that straight is normal. In fact, there’s no “normal” sexual orientation, and no one sexual orientation is better than any other.
If you and your teen have never talked about sexual orientation, look for chances to let them know that you think people of all sexual orientations deserve respect. You can talk with them about LGB friends or family, or even characters on TV or celebrities as a way to say that you respect people of all sexual orientations and to ask your teen what they think.
I think it’s about being open and open minded about the outcome and being prepared to listen more than you speak. There’s a gift in listening.
Parents are often the last to find out that their teen is LGBQ because you are the most important people in your child’s life so the stakes are really high. Many teens fear that they’ll disappoint you or they might be frightened that you’ll judge them, disown them or kicked them out.
Having your teen come out to you can feel overwhelming at first. You may have questions about the best way to react when your teen comes out. The most important thing to know is that they’ll be better off if they have support at home.
Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to understanding and supporting your LGBQ teen:
- Do let them know you love them. LGBQ teens may need more reassurance than straight teens that their parents love them.
- Do use the same word your teen uses to describe their sexual orientation. Make note of the word your teen uses to describe their orientation and use only that word. And if your teen doesn’t want to use a label to describe their orientation — even if they’re in a same-gender relationship — that’s okay, too.
- If you suspect your child is LGBQ, don’t pressure them to admit it. Some people don’t question their sexual orientation until later in life. Others figure out their sexual orientation while they’re young but don’t feel ready to come out to their parents or anyone for many years — and that’s okay.
- Don’t assume it’s just a phase — but be aware that sexual orientation can be fluid for some people, and labels sometimes change. No matter what, the important part is that you accept and believe what your teen says about their own sexual orientation, and know that there’s nothing you can do to change it.
- Do respect your teen’s wishes about who they want to come out to. Some people choose to come out to everyone in their lives and some prefer to tell only a few people. It’s up to your teen to decide. Encouraging your teen to hide their sexual orientation sends a message that you don’t approve of them. Do your best to support your teen in their choices about being out.
- Do help them figure out how to come out to people. Discuss different ways they might handle the situation if coming out doesn’t go as planned. This is a skill your teen will need to have throughout life, so helping them now will show you love them and are there for them.
- Don’t use words like transgendered, transvestite, tranny, or he-she — they’re outdated and can be hurtful. Ask family members and friends to not use these words either.
Your home needs to be a safe space for your teen to grow, explore their interests, and work towards their hopes and dreams. LGBTQ teens have a slightly different set of needs when it comes to feeling safe, secure, and supported at home.
- Ask your teen what they need from you to feel supported.
- Look for signs of depression or self harm, and if you notice any, ask your teen if they’re okay and if they want to speak with a therapist or counselor.
- Ask them about their friends and welcome their LGBTQ friends into your home.
- Meet anyone they’re dating, ask them questions, and check in with your teen about the relationship over time.
- Talk with them about safer sex and birth control. (Yes, even lesbian and gay teens should know about how pregnancy happens and how to prevent it because many LGBT-identified youth have sex that can put them at risk of unplanned pregnancy at some point.)
- Make it known that homophobic or transphobic speech — including jokes — isn’t acceptable in your home.
- Encourage them to read books and watch TV shows and films about LGBTQ characters, and encourage them toexplore online LGBTQ communities. (But be sure to talk about how to stay safe online.)
- Let them wear the clothes they want to wear.
Doing well in school is hard when you’re worried about being hurt or bullied, or when you don’t feel respected by your teachers or peer group. When it comes to making school a safe space for your teen, you can actually do a lot by simply asking your teen about their experiences at school — whether they feel safe, if they’re ever bullied or harassed, if they know other trans or gender nonconforming students, and if the school has any LGBTQ student groups.
Listening free from judgement is important – but maybe not always easy, so get the support you also need to make sure your relationship with your child isn’t damaged by misunderstanding, intolerance or fear.