Posted: May 18, 2012 10:00 AM
 
Your teen is gay. So now what... should you change the way you parent? Experts chime in with helpful advice for coming to terms with your child's sexuality.

If you’ve ever watched Glee, then you know that Kurt Hummel is an openly gay high school student. Kurt's dad struggles to accept his son's sexuality, but he does his best to be supportive and to keep the lines of communication open… good first steps for any parent.

Be open and accepting

"The most important thing parents of gay children can do is let them know their sexuality is accepted by the family," says 19-year-old Robert Black, who would have welcomed a show like Glee to open up a dialogue with his parents. "I wish my parents had done things differently to make my coming out to them easier," Black, now in college, reveals.

Educating yourself about homosexuality is a good place to start. "Sexual interest is not a choice. It is a biological and hormonal drive," says psychologist William Allenbaugh, who became involved with gay, lesbian and transgender issues when families referred their children to him to cure their gayness.

Your child hasn't changed

Suddenly you see your teen differently, but it's important to keep in mind that your child hasn't changed. "Most parents go through a grieving process -- shock, anger, grief... and hopefully, acceptance," says Allenbaugh.

"Having a homosexual child can be confusing and overwhelming," adds Dr. Frank J. Sileo, executive director for The Center for Psychological Enhancement. "Parents in this situation need support and education."

Be informed

"If you're freaking out about gay sex, that's your issue and not your child's." says Dr. Sileo, who specializes in working with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community.

Educate yourself by reaching out to national organizations such as PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), regional Pride Centers and Goofyfoot Press. "These resources help the child feel normal and accepted," just as every teen wants to feel, says Allenbaugh.

Communicate

Be supportive, reserve judgment and listen. A gay teen will likely face prejudice and biases, but hopefully not from you.

"You may be unsure of your child's sexuality, and your child may be unsure as well," says clinical psychologist and teen expert Dr. John Duffy. "Talk to your kids about sex and make homosexuality a part of that discussion."

And keep that discussion open and ongoing. "Glee, for example, provides opportunities to talk about sex," says Dr. Duffy. "Listen in a non-judgmental way to what your child has to say." Position yourself to be that consultant and confidante your child can come to with questions about sex and sexuality.

Whatever your child's sexuality, stay involved. "If children know parents are truly interested in this aspect of their lives, it opens the door for continued communication and trust," says Allenbaugh. "Parents should not be judgmental. They should be good listeners who offer choices and provide information to assist the child in gaining knowledge."

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Anonymous May 21, 2012
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Hi Mary! This is a great article. I live in a very diverse community with many LGBT friends & neighbors. This has never been an issue for me as a parent, but your article provides a great starting points for parents who may be struggling. Thanks!
Nichole Beaudry May 18, 2012
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Such an important piece, Mary. Excellent advice.