That said…there is also the principle of TMI-Too Much Information. I hear from kids they appreciate some restraint on the part of their parents. They likely don't want to hear everything at once. There is a time for a 'relationship primer' and another time for talks about 'plumbing'. Those conversations will more often than not happen as episodes, like 24, only over more weeks.
I hope that helps, even if just a little. Even if we adults try to keep these topics separate, likely the kids are muddling things together in their minds. This Dumbledore thing may be a perfect opportunity for some discussion, about both sex and sexual orientation. I would invite all readers to think back to when you were younger. Didn't you have questions about both too?
Len Koskitalo, Canada: If you suspect your son/daughter is gay, but hasn't said anything about it, should you ask him/her, or wait for them to broach the subject?
Michael Ungar: Hi Len, The answer to your question depends so much on the 'culture' of each family, and the relationship one has with their child. I'm hesitant on such a big issue to say categorically, "Do this…" or "Do that…" I'll leave that to Dr. Phil!
What I can tell you is that you can influence how comfortable your child is speaking with you about this. You can use this Dumbledore media event, and other moments like it, to show your family's tolerance for your child's self-expression. You can set an environment in which you show yourself to be the child's ally. Will they be able to count on your support? Even if you're not sure you can give it, like most parents who are initially confused and a little upset after their child discloses they are gay, you can still show openness to talking about things important to your child.
That said, there are moments when a child would like to be nudged into a conversation, but not too often. Far better to leave the door wide open. Let's face it, gay or straight, it was hard for most of us to talk about our sexuality with our parents. It is likely easier for a child to bring it up him/herself. If it looks like the young person is really suffering, or getting into some confused behaviour because he/she feels constrained, then maybe better to say, "It's okay whatever you want to tell me. I promise to listen…" Still watching an anxious child wrestling with feelings? Try offering a few options…"Please tell me what's on your mind…I can handle it. Don't worry about my feelings for a moment. Maybe you're worried over whether you're gay or not, or maybe something has happened at school, or your anxious about something you did, something criminal, or drugs….Please just let me know and I promise not to freak. I promise to support you."
Okay, a bit melodramatic, but I think you can see the pattern. Most young people seem to tell their parents about their sexual orientation when they are ready, and when they feel safe doing so. It's up to us parents to create the right conditions.
Rasha Mourtada, Globe Life web editor: Thank you, Prof. Ungar, for your time today. Any last thoughts?
Michael Ungar: Hello everyone, Great to have this opportunity to ponder some tough questions alongside all of you. Speaking with our children about sexuality is never easy. At least this is an opportunity to raise a few of the issues they are likely wondering about.
The very best to you and your families,
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