First Reactions of Parents Crucial in Coming Out

When gay and lesbian teenagers come out to their parents, the parents' initial reaction is crucial to their teenagers well being. Parents must examine their own homophobia, grieve lost dreams and support their teen.

The way parents first respond to their gay or lesbian teenager can help reduce suicide, depression and even drug and alcohol use. Of paramount importance is the expression of acceptance on the part of the parents to the coming out of their teenager.

Parent Reaction to Their Gay Teen

The reactions to this statement run the gambit from fear, grief, anger and disbelief. Joseph Shapiro reporting on National Public Radio (Study: Tolerance Can Lower Gay Kids' Suicide Risk, 2008), presents the key reaction that needs to be conveyed to the teenager is acceptance.

Acceptance can be a hard thing to offer for parents, though. Parents most likely have imagined their teenager's wedding, future grandchildren and other hopes for the teenager. The news that their son or daughter is gay or lesbian can be devastating. Many parents experience depression and anger at the news. It is important these are expressed very delicately to the gay adolescent.

Heide Kulkin, et al. in Suicide Among Gay and Lesbian Adolescents and Young Adults (Journal of Homosexuality, 2000) again emphasizes acceptance must be expressed by the parents to decrease suicide risk.

Problems of Gay and Lesbian Teens

Shapiro continues to caution that gay and lesbian teens who suffer from a lack of family support are 8.5 times more likely to attempt suicide, six times more likely to suffer from depression and 3 times more likely to use drugs and alcohol compared to teens who receive support from their family members.

Miichael Radkowski writes in The gay adolescent: Stressors, adaptations, and psychosocial interventions (Clinical Psychology Review, 1997) a number of risks face gay teens. These include not only depression and anxiety but also isolation, peer rejection, and threats from bullying.

In short, being a gay or lesbian teenager is a very difficult role. Without parental support and acceptance, the outlook for gay or lesbian teenagers is bleak.

What to Do When A Teen Comes Out

When parents first receive the news their son or daughter is gay or lesbian, whether from the teen themselves or other valid sources, they need to immediately take a few moments to sort their thoughts. Natural immediate reactions of disbelief and anger do nothing but contribute to the gay or lesbian teenagers problems.

Once the teenager has come out, parents need to:
Express their love and acceptance of their teenager, whoever they are.
Find support. The organization Parents and Friends of Gay and Lesbian (P-FLAG) offers many resources for parents of teens who have just came out.
Take time to privately grieve the loss of dreams or ideas that will need to change in the face of the new information.
Support their teenager. Medical science holds out on all fronts that gay and lesbian orientations are not made by choice. The coming out teen has already battled inner emotions, often to the breaking point. Parental support is crucial for their well being.

Having a son or daughter come out as gay or lesbian can evoke many emotions from parents. However the high risks of suicide, depression and drug use among teenagers can be swayed by parental acceptance. Parents should consider these factors and offer their teen support and find support for themselves.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Manley is the author of two books and an expert in spirituality and adolescent psychology. He may be reached via