"I'm pretty sure my son is gay. But I'm not sure what to do. Should I be doing anything? Should I ask him?"
The world today is a far more welcoming place for gay teens than it was a couple of generations - or even a couple of decades - ago. But it is still very difficult. "Gay" - like "retard" - remains one of the most used pejoratives in the world of kids. So what do you do if you think your son is gay?
First of all, how can you know whether your son is gay? You can't. Don't rely on the stereotypes. If you suspect that your son is gay, maybe he is, but maybe he isn't.
Should you ask? Well, there's a potential downside to asking - no matter how you phrase it.
"I want you to know that I think you're great, and I'm happy with who you are. But there's something that I just want to ask. Remember, I'm going to love you and accept you no matter what. Are you gay?"
He may be gay, and he may be pleased for the chance to tell you. But you also may get this: "Omigod, you think I'm gay. Omigod."
This could be his response whether he's straight or gay - and just not at the point in his life where he wants to tell you.
In other words, your question could create more of a problem than the good that might come of it. Many gay teens, for all kinds of reasons, choose not to disclose their sexual orientation. Perhaps he isn't ready to deal with your reaction. Perhaps - as a very normal adolescent boy - he'd rather keep all details about his sexuality private from you.
I think the greater wisdom is to let your teen be in charge of whether or when they choose to come out to you.
So what should you do?
First of all, if your teen is gay, you can't change him. Nor is it his choice. That is not the way it works.
Instead, do what you've hopefully been doing all along: showing him, through your behaviour, that you believe being gay is a completely acceptable sexual orientation - in no way shameful. If your child is gay, your actions and attitudes will be what make the biggest difference to him - and ultimately to your future relationship with him.
How do you act around people in your life that are gay? Do you seem comfortable with their sexuality? Have your words implied or outright stated that you think being gay is somehow bad, something that you frown upon or want to keep at a distance? The expression of such sentiments can be subtle.
"Look at those guy cheerleaders. You know about them."
"Do you really want to buy the pink sweater?"
Or have you made clear that being gay is another way that people are - not better, not worse? This more than anything indicates to your teen how you would feel about their being gay.
"I think Mom would be okay with it. But Dad always puts down being gay. I'm pretty sure it would be a real problem for our relationship."
And what if you have not been so tolerant about being gay and now strongly suspect that your son is? Mainly, you need to rethink your own thoughts and feelings about homosexuality.
I have written this column specifically in regard to gay teenage boys, although much of it applies with girls as well. But as the experience for lesbian teens is not quite the same, I have chosen to limit the focus to guys.
There is one last thing that you should do, whether you suspect that your teen is gay or not: Make sure that once they hit adolescence, they understand the importance of condom use. The risk of contracting STDs, including HIV, are still very much present for sexually active teens.
So if you think your son is gay, what should you do? It's really more about your attitude - if your attitude toward being gay is generally positive and welcoming, your son, if he is indeed gay, knows he will be accepted by you.
What you shouldn't do is try to find out whether he is gay or not.