The LGBT Health & Development Program

Talking to Your Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual Child About Sexual Orientation and Health

Posted on February 12th, 2015 by Michael in Families Blog, Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

Silhouette of back of mother and son walking on beach

Photo credit: Golden Dusk Media, “Day 153- Mother & Son,” September 6, 2013.

Your child has told you that he or she is gay, lesbian, or bisexual – now how do you keep them safe? One of the most important parts of being a parent is making sure your child stays safe and healthy. This may be more challenging when your child is a teenager because teens gradually gain more independence. It is also normal for teenagers to start to think about experimenting with sex or alcohol and drug use [1-3]. Parents of gay, lesbian, or bisexual teenagers face an extra challenge in keeping their teens safe: “If I don’t know what it’s like to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, how can I be a good parent for my teen?”

First – it is very difficult to be an effective parent without having a good quality relationship with your teen [4]. This means having a relationship that is high in trust and being emotionally connected. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens need to feel that they can trust their parents enough to talk to them about issues related to their sexual orientation. They also need to feel that their parents will still love and care for them after they have come out.

Research has found that two parenting strategies are the most effective in keeping teens healthy and safe: parental monitoring and effective communication [4-6].  Parental monitoring means that parents are aware of their child’s whereabouts and activities and work to prevent the child from being in unsafe situations. Doing this helps teens learn how to monitor their health and safety on their own. Lots of parents don’t know how to ask their gay, lesbian, or bisexual teens about where they are going or who they are hanging out with. They have a hard time knowing what is safe or dangerous because they are not familiar with what it’s like to be involved with the gay community. Ask!  For example: “When you hang out with your gay friends, tell me about where you usually go?” Or “Are any of your friends dating or hooking up with each other?”

Of course, this means that parents should be able to effectively communicate with their teens about health and safety issues. It can be hard for any parent to talk to their teens about these things, particularly when it comes to sex. It is even harder for parents of gay, lesbian, or bisexual teens because they might not know much about what is safe or unsafe about sex between two men or two women.  It is important for parents to educate themselves (see links at the end). Once you have accurate information, you also need to communicate effectively with your child. The most effective communication with your teen is direct and clear but allows your teen to ask questions or disagree.  It is important to let your teen know your opinions clearly and respectfully, but you should also allow your teen to have their own opinions. This way, your teen will be more likely to come to you if they have a health or safety issue in the future.

Resources for communicating with teens:
Sex Education: Talking to Your Teen about Sex
How to Communicate With and Listen to Your Teen

Information about same-sex sexuality and health:
How Do You Get HIV or AIDS?
Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health
Lesbian and Bisexual Health Fact Sheet

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[1] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2012). Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Rockville, MD: United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

[2] Eaton, D. K., Kann, L., Kinchen, S., et al. (2012). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Surveillance Summaries, 61(4), 1-162.

[3] Steinberg, L. (2008). A social neuroscience perspective on adolescent risk-taking. Developmental Review, 28(1), 78-106. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2007.08.002

[4] Dishion, T. J., McMahon, R. J. (1998) Parental monitoring and the prevention of child and adolescent problem behavior: a conceptual and empirical formulation. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 1(1), 61-75. doi: 10.1023/A:1021800432380

[5] Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., Miller, J. Y. (1992) Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 64-105. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.64

[6] Kincaid, C., Jones, D. J., Sterrett, E., McKee, L. (2012). A review of parenting and adolescent sexual behavior: The moderating role of gender. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(3), 177-188. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.01.002

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