What to do when your teen ‘comes out’

Ther’s no worse feeling than needing to change yourself, but not being able to, looking at yourself one way and having the world look at you a completely different way. It just hurts.”

Parents need to provide love, acceptance

Ther’s no worse feeling than needing to change yourself, but not being able to, looking at yourself one way and having the world look at you a completely different way. It just hurts.”

That’s a 17-year-old describing the internal turmoil that can lead up to the decision to “come out.”

Being told, “Mom and dad, I’m gay,” can come as a tremendous shock to parents. Even if you react well to the news, you may feel sadness, disappointment and even guilt as you come to terms with this “new” person.

But understand that what seems like a sudden change to you wasn’t for your child. This isn’t “just a phase” he’s going through. Most likely he wrestled with his own thoughts and feelings for months or years before deciding that being open about his sexuality was worth of risk of his parents’ disapproval or rejection.

“Parents need to stop blaming themselves. Their child has discovered his/her true self even if they’re turning out in a way their parents didn’t plan.” – 16-year-old

Parents and children can both benefit from the support of peers as they go through the adjustment process, says Megan Kennedy, a sexual minority mental health specialist here at Youth Eastside Services. In addition to one-on-one counseling, Megan facilitates B-GLAD, our free and confidential drop-in support group for bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning youth ages 13 to 19.

A peer group (PFLAG offers one for parents) creates a safe environment to share and discuss with others who are struggling with the same issues, she says.

“I came to B-GLAD after one of the worst weeks of my life... That first week, I kind of sat facing the floor and didn’t really talk, but over this past year that I’ve been coming, it’s completely changed every part of my life and I’m absolutely positive that it saved me.” -14-year-old

Many of our B-GLAD youth say they’ve become “different” in their parents’ eyes, defined by their sexuality, when in fact they haven’t changed. They still play soccer, like the same music and have the same academic and career goals.

“GLBT teens want what any other teen wants,” Megan says. “They want their parents to love them and know them and be proud of them.”

If your child’s coming out leaves you at a loss for words, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Parents often make the mistake of rushing in with questions and advice, when they’d help their child more by just listening.

The other extreme – denial – can hurt your child more than being overly solicitous. Not talking about it won’t make it go away.

Your child needs your love and acceptance as she works through some difficult issues of her own, including possible intolerance in her own school or community.

Megan says it’s never too late to become your child’s ally and advocate, even if it’s in retrospect.

“If kids know they have their parents’ support and love, that’s one less thing they need to worry about,” she says. “They don’t have to face the world alone.”

Here’s some help

B-GLAD: For more information, go to www.youtheastsideservices.org (Services for youth and families) or call 425-747-4937

Lambert House: www.lamberthouse.org

Safe Schools Coalition: www.safeschoolscoalition.org

Bellevue PFLAG: www.bellevue-pflag.org/