Do you think your teen wants to come out to you, but might be holding back? It may be because they’re scared of how you’ll react. Here’s a few tips on how to handle your teen coming out to you.
by Kimberly Pangaro | Kimberly is a mom of four daughters and the owner of the lifestyle parenting media company Atomic Mommy. When she’s not running her company or momming all day, she’s writing about family life.
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Teens struggle with a great deal of personal issues on a daily basis. If you couple the normal teen problems with having to come out to a parent, then they’re likely dealing with a heck of a lot more than any of us realize.
Teens should feel loved and safe with their parents, and that includes when the time comes for them to come out of the closet. But as we all know, some parents are unsure of how to handle such a conversation with their kids, so they botch it and as a result, cause their teen to shut them out.
Hopefully, you’re reading this before your teen has had a chance to come out to you. If so, keep reading for some great tips on how to handle your teen coming out to you!
Tip #1 Listen To Them Fully Without Interruption
As parents, we tend to think we know everything even if we don’t, and teens can sense that kind of personal pride. Unfortunately, that also means that they may feel like they can’t tell us certain things without getting a proverbial knock on the head with our “know-it-all” statements. The sad part about not being able to talk to parents is that teens often experience feelings of depression or anxiety at higher rates than younger children. So a lack of confidence in a parent’s ability to hear them out, could cause an unstable mental and emotional state of well-being.
To avoid this from happening to your teen, it’s important to just hear them out. Listen to everything they are saying, including any explanations of why they waited to tell you. Perhaps they were afraid you’d judge them, stop loving them, or kick them out of the only home they’ve ever known–be there for them in a way that shows you care and are intent on making them feel loved. If they ask you for feedback, be honest with them, not combative or judgmental.
Tip #2 Ask If They’ll Allow You To Ask Them Questions
This is a big deal. By asking them for permission to ask them questions, you are letting them know a couple of things: (1) you care enough to find out more, (2) you want to learn to be a part of their lives, and (3) that you are open and willing to welcome their real selves. Be sure to impart on your teen that asking questions is part of your growth in understanding what they are telling you.
Remember, your teen coming out to you is more about them and less about you. Even though you’re just finding out about your child, that doesn’t give you the right to bombard them with all of your intense feelings. If they do give you the go ahead, be sure to ask thoughtful questions, but do not put them down in any way. It’s okay to ask them things like, “How long have you known?”, “Have you told anyone else?”, “Am I allowed to tell family members or is that something you want to do?”, “Is it okay to show my support for you publicly or are there certain areas of your life you’d rather not share this personal information?”.
Asking questions helps you understand what part of their coming out journey they are on. Maybe they’ve only told you, or maybe only a few close friends know. Maybe they don’t want other family members to know, like siblings or aunts and uncles, because they are afraid that they will be treated differently moving forward. Either way, it is your job as their parent to love and support them, encourage them to tell others when they feel ready, and to never out them on your own.
Tip #3 Respect Their Coming Out Journey
Every one comes out differently, using different methods, and everyone’s stories are different. This means that today your teen could come out gay, and in five years, they could come out as bi-curious or as transgender. It is important to understand that every person has an individual experience with their sexuality and identity. Therefore, their coming out journey may be a winding path that is unclear even to them. Respect your teen’s coming out journey, even if it changes as the years go by. This will keep your bond with one another quite close.
Tip #4 Be Supportive In Whatever Way They Want You To Be
This can be difficult to do, especially in the beginning. If you’re a naturally supportive person of any cause close to your heart, you may feel the urge to buy flags, signs, bumper car stickers, and even throw a Pride BBQ every June. Before you do any of those things, ask your teen if they are okay with your public support. If they say no, ask them why and then respect their answer. If they say yes, be sure to ask them for specifics like how much public support they are willing to welcome. After all, they may not want you wearing Pride t-shirts to their school drop-off zone.
Tip #5 Realize Coming Out Is Not A One-Off Conversation
Coming out is a big deal for anyone, and for teens especially. Teen years can be tumultuously difficult to handle as it is, but your teen should not feel like they cannot come talk to you more often. They may need to have more than one conversation with you about their sexual orientation, or talk to you about what it’s like for them in school, and they may need to have these kinds of conversations with you several times. Your job is to be there fore them, to listen as often as they need and want you to, and to show them you truly support them on their new journey. So be open to chatting with them, time and time again.
Tip #6 Set Rules Just Like You Would If They Never Came Out
Teens just want to feel normal. Part of feeling normal means being treated like they’re still your child. So, give them rules and structure just like you would to any teen.
Give them rules about dating, sex, sleepovers with boyfriends/girlfriends, and meeting their partners. Maybe you want to meet every person they choose to date, or maybe you don’t want them to have sleepovers with their partners until they’re mentally and emotionally more mature. Just be sure to make the rules about regular concerns and not about their new sexual orientation.
Tip #7 You Still Need To Have The Sex Talk With Them
If you are concerned that your teen maybe on the cusp of having sex, it’s important to still have the talk with them because break-ups are real and so is the hurt that goes with it. Teach them what having sex too early does to their emotional state, how it changes their notions of love, and what STD’s are. Just because they’re coming out to you, doesn’t mean your teen should not be spoken to about the physical and emotional dangers of sex.
Tip #8 Do Not Tell Them You Always Knew Based On Their Appearance
How a person dresses or looks or walks and talks, should not be used to determine their identity. When your teen does come out to you, you’ll need to be understanding. By telling them you knew their sexual orientation by how they dressed, you are essentially showing them that you may have some underlying discrimination towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Rather than saying this very stereotypical statement to them, try not telling them you always knew. Instead, when they do come out to you, remind them that we are all different and we are all just trying to be accepted by our peers. Be sincere in telling them how your love for them will not change no matter what.
Tip #9 Do Not Brush Anything Under The Table
When your teen messes up, parents usually let them know they messed up by grounding them or taking their phone away. If your teen comes out to you, it is better to maintain the status quo of your previous house rules than to brush under the table any rules they break just because you’re afraid that they’ll think you don’t love them.
You can set this tone with them right from the start by letting them know that messing up grades, or committing crimes, or breaking other house rules is still unacceptable and will remain punishable no matter how much you love them. Explain that loving them means raising them to be good and smart adults, regardless of their sexual orientation. By putting this in place right from the moment they come out to you, you are making sure they understand that you will not treat them differently because of who they are.
Tip #10 Be Open About Your Personal Dislikes
Teens can sniff out dishonesty very easily, that includes if a parent is lying about their acceptance of their newly out teen. If you have had issues being supportive or welcoming of the LGBTQIA+ members in previous years, ask your teen to give you a chance to change your outlook. Explain that in your time, things may have been different. Tell them how you were raised, what beliefs were drilled into your head, and how those ideas shaped you. Most of all, be honest with your teen.
If you honestly cannot be the type of parent who can publicly support them on their coming out journey, let them know that. But also tell them you will do your best to support them because after all, they are your kids. Who cares if you can’t stand to put a rainbow sticker on your car–all your teen wants from you is your love and support for who they really are. So love them with every bit of your heart, and try your best to build a positive outlook on the LGBTQIA+ community.
Keep the tips above in your parenting toolbox, and hopefully, you’ll be able to guide yourself when your teen comes out to you. And remember, your teen coming out to you shouldn’t derail you from doing what you already do as a parent–loving them!