Conversations around gender identity and sexual orientation are among the most challenging parents and children can have.
Considering that a recent Gallup Poll of nearly 13,000 adults found that more than one in five Gen Zers (born between 1997 and 2003) identify as LGBTQ, up from 10.5% just five years ago and that parental support is critical to the wellbeing of young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and families need to have the ability to communicate openly and lovingly about these issues.
In my practice, I frequently see parents who are eager to be supportive of a child who they believe might be LGBTQ, but worry about broaching the topic the right way. I also see young people who want to be open and honest with their parents, but fear judgment or alienation from their families.
As a parent, if you want your child to share their feelings about their identity and sexuality, building a strong foundation of trust, connection and open communication can go far to ease their fears. Be approachable, or as the global non-profit Advocates for Youth urges, be an “askable parent.”
Before Your Child Comes Out
Advocates for Youth recommends the following first steps for parents:
- Become informed. Educating yourself will help you be ready to provide support and input whenever your child desires it.
- Consider your values and beliefs around sexuality and examine your own biases. If you are aware of your feelings, you can better express them in loving and positive ways.
- Normalize the topic. Don’t wait for THE TALK. Instead, look for opportunities to have short, casual conversations. Chatting about something you see on TV or when a celebrity comes out, can show your child your views and that you are comfortable with the topic.
- Let your child know that you will love and support them, no matter what. One of the most common fears that LGBTQ youth express is the concern that their parents won’t love them anymore because they are “different.” Sharing the message that you will love them forever is critical.
- Make sure they know that home is a safe place, where they won’t be bullied, teased, rejected or humiliated. Show them that you respect their privacy and that you will always protect their confidentiality.
“If your child turns to you to share personal information, you are doing something right! You’re sending out consistent verbal and non-verbal cues that say, “Yes, I’ll listen. Please talk to me!”, Advocates for Youth writes.
Coming Out Strategies
Coming out, however, is a two-way conversation and both the parent and child play a role in ensuring that dialogue is loving and mutually respectful. Here we share some good communication strategies for both parent and child.
- Show your love and support, even if you are struggling to accept what they say. Express affection when your child is coming out to you and continue to do so.
- Listen more than you speak. But don’t stay silent. Your child may think that your silence on this topic means that you are angry with them or that the topic is taboo. Ask thoughtful questions and keep talking, even if it feels uncomfortable.
- Show your child that you appreciate them coming to you to discuss this issue. Acknowledge that you know it can’t be easy for them. Encourage them to continue coming to you.
- Don’t worry about being “with it.” Instead, show an interest in learning from them.
- Be open about your own feelings and values concerning love, sex and relationships, without judgment, if relevant. Share experiences that may be helpful.
- Be respectful of their privacy.
- Let them know if you need time to process, but stress that you want to continue the conversation.
- Decide how you want to come out. Is it a serious conversation or would you rather mention it more casually? What do you think would be most effective and comfortable for both you and your parents?
- Consider timing and location. Your comfort is important. Do you want to have the conversation at home or in a more public place? Are there better times of the day when your family is relaxed and not distracted?
- Prepare a script. Getting the words out can be hard. Think about what you want to say and how to say it in advance.
- Tell your truth and speak from the heart. Strive to be clear and straightforward, but also share your feelings about coming out.
- Consider how to respond. Your parents may be supportive but have questions, express concern or worry, or react negatively. Be prepared. The website www.strongfamilyalliance.com has helpful suggestions for what to say in a variety of situations.
- Offer resources. PFLAG.org provides education, information and support to families of LGBTQ youth and adults. The Trevor Project has a Coming Out Handbook.
- Have an exit plan. Decide how you want to end the conversation. You may not be ready to talk in depth or your parents may not be ready to hear more. It is acceptable to say: “I don’t want to go into this right now, but I wanted to tell you.”
- Give your parents time to absorb and digest. Just because someone doesn’t respond positively immediately doesn’t mean they don’t support you. Many people don’t really know what to say. They might need time to process the information.
Using these tips parents can be supportive of a child who is coming out as LGBTQ, and do so in ways that encourage healthy conversations in their families. And with these conversation guides, teens can be open and honest with their parents, and share their experience without fear judgment or alienation from their families.