If your teenager comes to you for help because he or she is experiencing same-sex attraction, it is time for you to put your game face on. This is one of those big moments for a parent that may come to define your future relationship with your son or daughter. Don’t blow it.
Here’s how to handle it:
1. Listen. Really listen
It will be tempting to let your mind wander off into all kinds of crazy places, worrying about whether your child has had sex, what the future holds for you, for your teenager, etc. Don’t go there. Focus on what your child is actually saying. There is a big difference, for instance, between saying, “Mom and Dad, I think I’m gay; how do I know?” and saying, “Mom and Dad, I’m gay.”
2. Express love
Your first reaction must be to express unconditional love to your teen. Honestly, to whom your child may be attracted should not impact your love for your child in the least. If you hope to continue a dialog with your child — and you should hope to continue the dialog — you need to be completely honest when you say that you love your teen regardless how they identify themselves.
3. Listen more
As you listen to what your teen is telling you, show that you are listening by being attentive. Turn off the TV, your phone, your iPad and any other distraction. Make eye contact with your teen. Paraphrase what she is telling you to confirm that you understand what she is saying. Above all, you want to demonstrate that you are a safe person in whom to confide. If she isn’t already experiencing bullying at school she is likely to be afraid she will be bullied in the future. You want her to feel that you have her back so she will come to you first with her concerns.
4. Don’t reject the premise
Even though young teens have not yet finished puberty and lack adult judgment and experiences, do not tell your teen that what they feel is wrong, confused or mistaken. If she is confused, tell her it is OK to be confused and that you will love her no matter what and will be there to help her understand her feelings as she grows up. Chances are good that your teen feels even more strongly than she admits about same sex attraction; she’s trying to ease into the issue largely for your sake.
5. Reinforce standards
Even as you express love and understanding, it is important to reinforce family standards of conduct. If you’ve been teaching your teens to abstain from sex, it is wise to reinforce that message so that your teen doesn’t misconstrue your unconditional love and understanding as a license to experiment sexually.
Whether or not the schools in your area provide sex education, make sure that your teen understands how sexually transmitted diseases are passed and how to protect against them. Parents have a special responsibility to ensure that their children understand these risks.
By listening and expressing unconditional love for your teenager, you ensure that your child feels safe in your home where you want her. Almost half of homeless youth identify themselves as gay or lesbian. Don’t let your discomfort with this subject allow your child to end up on the streets.
Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.