Talking to Teens about their Sexuality

Dear Sharon,

We think our daughter may be a lesbian. She is 13 and so far we haven’t talked about it as a family and she hasn’t revealed this to us. What are your thoughts about this? Should we bring it up or wait for her? What if we’re wrong, although I don’t think we are? We naturally want her to be comfortable being whoever she is in life and we’re concerned about her feeling she has to “hide”.

Dear parents,

Most 13 year olds become hesitant, awkward or secretive about talking to Moms or Dads about personal issues in the midst of their often-complicated adolescent lives.

If a child is wrestling with their sexuality and as a result possibly being influenced or even targeted in different ways by the people around them then I think it is probably not a question of “if” to bring up your daughter’s sexuality but more about “how” and “when”.

As many teens are “on edge” from the frequent peer pressures, hormonal changes and academic demands that surface in adolescence I often suggest to parents that they work on their overall relationship with their teenager as a vital first step. Beginning by finding significant times to relax and enjoy each other can help the eventual “heart to heart talk” be free of the tension or power battles that often are present in a 13 year old’s everyday life with their parents.

This may mean spending a weekend together doing something parents and child enjoy or having a series of evenings that are relaxing and fun. It could also mean listening to music Dad doesn’t like hearing, playing video games that Mom doesn’t understand or an number of other ways to practically let an adolescent know that their parents love them and “are on their side.”

Once a family has spent some quality time together a teen is more likely to hear sincere and heartfelt expressions that their parents can offer as a tangible sign of their love and support. Simple phrases like “I am really proud of you”, or “you are the best thing that ever happened to me.” or “I’m sorry I’m upset with you sometimes but when I think about it I don’t think I would change one thing about you” can communicate a lot.

Bringing up sexuality directly might not happen for a while but if a parent feels like it might be time, it can be less overwhelming to pose direct questions in a relaxed and loving environment. Sometimes children talk more easily when walking, driving, going to bed, or sitting in their favorite easy chair. The more casual the parental tone and atmosphere the more likely it will be that the teen will feel less “under surveillance” and more able to talk through their thoughts and ideas about their sexuality. Setting up the conditions for the teen to do most of the talking is usually one of the most important things a Mom or Dad can do.

Communicating sincere parental love over time to an adolescent who might be gay is one of the most supportive gifts a Mom or Dad can offer.