Skip to content. Q: My 14 year-old claims to be gay. A: Right now, you may feel that you're the only parent in the world facing this situation, but this question is one of the most common ones received by two of the guest panelists The Family Project 's parenting professionals recruited for help in answering it.
Melinda and Don Kohn, who staff a helpline for parents sponsored by the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays PFLAG say that there's been a huge downward shift in the age when young people "come out" about homosexuality to their parents. Five or 10 years ago, the most common time was during the lates or early 30s, they say. Now, it's the mid-teens. But, panelists say, just because your child is now expressing a particular sexual preference doesn't mean it's his or her last word on the subject.
During their teenage years it's normal for kids to tend to "try on" different roles in a lot of areas of life, including sexuality, to see what fits them -- or what shocks their parents. Because homosexuality is such a hot-button issue in the culture today, this may be an example of that kind of behavior. Also, they say, your child may be reacting to feeling different from other kids the same age, perhaps because of an interest or talent unusual among kids of his or her gender.
Inasmuch as "gay" is sometimes used by kids -- both boys and girls -- to describe other kids who don't fit the current mold, your child might even be using the term without knowing what it means because others are calling him or her that. On the other hand, many people who are homosexual say they knew their true sexual orientation by this age. If that's the case with your child, the sooner he or she lets you know, the better it will be for both of you, says guest panelist Melinda Kohn.
Nonetheless, she and other panelists acknowledge, your response to this news is likely to be very complicated. Parents say they usually have a powerful mix of emotions, colored by their personal experiences with gay and lesbian people, expectations for their child, religious and moral beliefs, and fears about how others will react to the child and what will happen to him and her in the future.
And just as your child's pronouncement may not be his or her last word on the subject, your first feelings are likely to change over time as well. Honesty about them to yourself and with your child is probably the best course of action. And a certain amount of caution is also probably in order. You can say, "It's a lot to understand, and I want to talk more about it and find out more,' instead of going off on a reaction you can never take back," says panelist Ann Friedenheim.
Adds panelist Bill Vogler: "I'd say A, don't panic, and B, I'd thank him for telling me, and consider it a gift that he's open to talking.
But he recommends that you keep the dialogue open, even though that's hard to do with teenagers in any case. Unfortunately, panelists say, they know of cases in which parents have forbidden gay teens to live at home or stopped speaking to their offspring for a long time after such a disclosure. They hope you won't do that, with several noting that the disclosure really hasn't changed the child. So, while panelists would never urge a parent to do anything against conscience, they hope you will remain loving towards you child and realize that both you and he or she will need a lot of information and support as you move forward.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. E-mail: familyproject mcall. Box , Allentown, PA Phone: Ann Friedenheim, clinical supervisor for Confront, Allentown. Joanne Nigito, registered play therapist and parenting educator, Bethlehem. Broad St. To sign up, call , ext. Inquire about a Gay-Straight Alliance at your child's school. These groups in other areas are listed on the Internet. See www. Trevor Helpline can assist youth and includes suicide prevention , Helping a child who claims to be gay After a teen child discloses same-sex orientation: Expect to have strong feelings and feelings that will change over time.
Some say the experience is much like grieving after a death, in that you will likely move back and forth among stages, including shock, denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance in various areas. Accede to your child's feelings and wishes about who knows about his or her personal life. Some parents have expressed to the Kohns that they've felt that they "went into the closet" after their child came out to them, feeling they had to be extra-careful in talking about their child to friends and associates.
This can be difficult, but is respectful of your child. Provide safe opportunities for your child to learn more about his or her sexuality and develop skills and talents. This can come through counseling, although not necessarily counseling that seeks to change sexual orientation. Joining a support group where sexual orientation is not an issue can be extremely important. Panelists said gay and lesbian teens also need to identify themselves in ways that do not have to do with their sexuality, such as being "a good photographer" or "a computer whiz.
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