A lot of parents are not prepared for the day that their teen comes out to them. It’s not something they always teach in the parents’ handbooks, and some parents think they’ll never be in this situation, so it’s easy to make simple mistakes. Whether you suspect your teen might want to come out or not, all parents should know what NOT to say. Here are some careful steps to ensure that you don’t say or do anything that will take support away from your teen.
Don’t Say Nothing
Possibly the worst thing a parent can do after their teen comes out is to ignore them, or find themselves at a loss for words because it can be unexpected, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar. This isn’t good because it shows that a parent wants to prioritize their own feelings over their teen’s feelings. Parents who immediately lock down and run from discussion make their children feel unsupported at one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives. It is true that some parents might need time to sort through their own feelings on the matter, but those feelings should never lead to silence.
We suggest you respect your teen’s feelings if this conversation catches you off guard, and simply let them know, “No one has ever come out to me before. I’m sorry if I don’t know all the right words, but you I want you to know that I love you and support you. Your sexual orientation has nothing to do with how much I care.”
Don’t Make It Negative
When a teen comes out, a parent’s mind often races to the damaging issues faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Will they be ostracized? Will it be hard for them to find love? Will my friends and other family members support them? While it is true that teens in a sexual minority might be at risk of facing different challenges, all people have to deal with negative social situations and it’s best to focus on something inspiring instead. Parents do not help their teens by endlessly discussing the potential negatives. Scaring your teen will not help them feel any better about their decision to come out. Instead, we recommend bringing up the importance of being proud of oneself no matter what, and not letting others get you down for something you can’t control. This is a serious lesson-teaching moment about how great it is to accept yourself for who you are.
Don’t Question Their Sexuality
Parents who immediately question the reality of their teen coming out set a bad example and can break down trust. Parents should affirm their teen’s decision to come out to them, and questioning their teen’s sexuality dilutes the importance of the conversation, sexuality, and identity in general. Plus, a bad reaction might encourage teens to withhold intimate or difficult times from their parents in the future, which is both risky and leaves them with less support. Parents should hear out their teen, and ask questions to help them understand how they feel. Always take your teen seriously if they reveal they aren’t straight, as this will help build trust and affirm to the teen that their parent is a loving, helpful resource.
Don’t Abandon Your Teen
When talking to a teen who has recently come out, it is important to use vocabulary that reinforces support. By that I mean, say things like, “I’m here for you,” “I will always listen,” “You can tell me anything,” or “I’m always on your side.” It takes a massive leap of confidence for a teen to trust a parent with this information, so when a parent reacts by distancing themselves from their teen they are wavering the supposedly-unconditional support a parent should have for their child. Instead of distancing themselves from their children, parents should support their teen by emphasizing that they may not have all the answers, but they are willing to learn with their teen and face challenges together. Don’t abandon your teen to make this journey alone.
Don’t Blow It Out of Proportion (No Drama!)
Finally, a common mistake parents can make then their teen comes out is dramatizing the incident. Parents might overreact for a variety of reasons, but many do so out of discomfort and a lack of understanding. Parents should not blow events like these out of proportion and make a big fuss about sexuality because it distracts from their teen, their teen’s feelings, and the act of coming out itself. Take a deep breath, your child is still the same person you know and love. When a teen comes out to their parents, the parents should try to place focus on demonstrating support, but not treating them “differently” just because they aren’t straight. Dramatizing the moment and blowing it up demonstrates that parents aren’t focused on their teen and are worrying about the wrong issues.
It is easy to misstep when reacting to your teen coming out. Always remain honest with them and yourself, even if you don’t know how to react right away. The best advice is to always work towards a greater understanding of each other through love and support.