Sexual orientation is part of the "sex talk" we have with our children and how/when you broach the subject is an important moment for both parent and child. There are always topics parents may feel uncomfortable or ill-equipped to handle but it is crucial that the information they receive come from a trusted source and not be seen as a taboo subject. Your child may come to you one day and say "my friend is gay" and at that point they may want answers from you as to what this means and how you feel about it. Ignoring the subject does not make it go away and can send the wrong to message, this is actually an opportunity to let your child know that no topic is off-limits and open to the door to many more meaningful conversations. Licensed Psychologist and Parenting expert, Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, offers some great advice for parents to get this specific conversation going in the right way. The following is her take on how to talk sexual orientation with your kids.
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1.) Many schools start teaching issues related to sexuality by the time kids reach 4th or 5th grade as part of their Health curriculum. It is best to have the conversation with your kids before they reach this age as it will make them feel more comfortable with the material when it is presented in school.
Don’t be surprised however if your kids approach you with related questions at much younger ages. We live in a world where the definition of family has been updated and expanded. You may need to address the issue of sexual orientation earlier than you think. If for example your pre-schooler comes home asking why Johnny has two moms and no dad or Mary has two fathers, you will need to provide an age-appropriate answer.
2.) As indicated above parents may be faced with the task of explaining sexual orientation to their young children. What you say really depends on the developmental level of your child. For younger kids a good place to start is by explaining that there are all sorts of families. If your children are older, the conversation can focus more on the fact that a “couple” is defined by the love, support and caring between the two people in the union, not by the sex of each. The key is to speak to your child’s level of understanding.
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3.) If you know your child’s friend is gay there is a pretty strong chance that your child is also aware. He/she may not make mention because it isn’t a big deal to them. Let your child lead the way. They will come to you if they have questions.
4.) You can discourage our child from using derogatory terms by gently calling them on it if they do. Often when kids say these things because they are unaware of the true meaning. In addition, it is important to model tolerance and understanding. Your kids learn more from you through observational learning than you think.
5.) It is often difficult to offer information without offering opinion. When talking with your kids about sexuality and sexual orientation, it is important to be sensitive. These issues should be addressed in a series of interactive discussions with your kids in one talk. It is how you approach the subject that can make all the difference. Use articles you have read (e.g. the New York Times Magazine has run articles on controversy surrounding same-sex prom dates) or stories your teen may bring to you about kids at school, or television episodes etc. as a way to get the conversation started. Don’t just talk at your kids, listen to what they have to say, even if they are presented misinformation. Correct them once they have finished speaking. If you are uncomfortable or embarrassed about the subject, let your kids know how you feel but continue the discussion. Be open to their questions and concerns. The more available you are the more likely they will to turn to you instead of other resources such as their friends who may offer misinformation.
6.) A good take home message: Sexual orientation is one aspect of a person it does not define who they are or what they are about. Kids by nature are accepting and supportive, as they get older they begin to label and judge. It is the role of parents to teach tolerance and understanding to their kids. Kids learn by example so it is important that we practice what we preach.
7.) A good resource for parents is PFLAG which stands for Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays. In addition, there is a great web series called ‘Anyone but me’ , which addresses issues related to Lesbian and Gay teens.
8.) As suggested above, the best way to begin the conversation is by referencing a resource such as a magazine article or TV show. Another way to start the conversation is by starting with a question regarding their thoughts or opinion on a topic-related issue. When you really hear what they have to say, you empower them. You let them know that you value their response. Avoid lecturing or talking at your kids, this is a sure way to shut them down.
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