It’s difficult for adolescents to talk to their parents about sex, but it’s especially so for kids who are coming to terms with gender identity or sexual orientation.
Many teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) are secretive about their thoughts and feelings for fear of being rejected by their parents.
In fact, their health and happiness may depend on it.
“These kids can be vulnerable,” Dr. Cole said. “Even though LGBT people are more widely accepted than before, a lot of families are not comfortable or equipped to deal with it.
“I urge parents to create an environment where it’s accepted. Studies have shown adolescents look mostly to parents and peers for information. Teens value their parents’ opinions. They’re listening to what we have to say.”
Dr. Cole said kids who feel comfortable sharing, who feel loved and supported, are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors or suffer from mental health problems.
LGBT teens are at higher risk for suicide attempts, substance abuse and homelessness. Without proper guidance, gay teen boys, in particular, may be inclined to seek inappropriate sexual relations.
Here are some ideas on how to open a discussion with your teen:
- Cite something in the news or popular culture to talk about acceptance of LGBT people. Make it clear whenever the opportunity arises that it’s normal for different people to have different sexual and gender preferences. We don’t choose our sexual orientation; we’re born with it.
- Ask about friends at school who have boyfriends or girlfriends, and shift the conversation to whether your teen has interest in anyone.
“Make it as disarming as you can,” Dr. Cole said. “Once you open that door, it makes it easier for them to talk about their feelings. That can lead to questions and discussions about their own sexuality.”
- If your adolescent is taking sex education in health class, it’s an opportunity to explore the topic at home.
- If you’re not comfortable discussing sexual matters with your children, you can still support them by providing appropriate resources. Seek out organizations or support groups that help families. Identify a role model for your child. Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that pediatricians talk with adolescents about sexuality and provide information.
The bottom line is that how you approach your children’s sexuality can have a lasting impact on their well-being.