Within the past month, there has been an increase in the amount of attention given to the issues surrounding Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) youth, especially the effects of peer bullying. As I have touched upon bullying in previous blogs, I would like this blog to focus on the importance of family support, particularly in the case of GLBT teenagers. I am aware that each family, as well as individual family members, has their own perspectives concerning GLBT issues; therefore, the purpose of this blog is not to change minds, but to simply encourage unconditional family support, which is a vital ingredient in all healthy families no matter the issue being addressed.
One of the major events in a GLBT youth’s life is the coming out process. I use the word process here because the decision to tell family, friends, and acquaintances is a lifelong process not just a one time event; however, for many GLBT individuals telling family members marks the beginning of their coming out process. For many parents, hearing the news that their child is gay is not a surprise and they are readily able to provide support to their child and reassure them that such news does not change their relationship in any way. However, for other parents, the news can not only be a shock, but may also evoke numerous feelings, not all of which are positive. In moments such as this, it is imperative that a parent take the time to explore their own feelings before rushing into any decisions that could potentially damage the relationship between parent and child. Remembering that coming out to family is often one of the scariest parts of the coming out process can help parents focus on their child’s needs in the moment rather than acting or speaking impulsively. One possible route for parents who find themselves confused after their child delivers the news that they are gay is as follows:
1) First listen to your child without interruption or judgmental statements
2) Acknowledge your confusion/shock, but reassure your child of your unconditional love
3) Ask for time to soak in the new information before making any family decisions
4) Educate yourself/seek guidance and support from other parents of GLBT teens
5) When ready, sit down and ask how your child would feel most supported by you
6) OR….if you find yourself still struggling with the news, consider attending therapy together. Family therapy might focus on GLBT education, healthy communication, as well as providing a safe place for everyone to explore themselves and their role(s) within the family system.
Finally, there are several organizations in the area that are aimed at providing support for GLBT persons, as well as their family and friends. One such organization is PFLAG or Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (www.pflagdc.org). PFLAG offers support groups, provides education, and advocates for GLBT individuals and their families. Obtaining the proper support can make all the difference for a GLBT youth, and it is often the support of family that buffers the effects of peer bullying. The act of providing unconditional love can truly make the difference in a child’s life, especially when it seems that others have turned their backs; therefore, remember that your relationship with your child is a precious gift and that you have more control over how that relationship evolves than you may even realize.
Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
October 28th, 2010