Few parenting concerns during adolescence generate as much emotional turbulence as the possibility that one's child might have a homosexual orientation. For many parents, especially those deeply committed to traditional values, the thought of a child becoming involved in homosexual relationships raises unsettling moral questions For some, reactions to homosexuality extend into the darker emotions of hatred and loathing.

Different voices

In contrast, many influential voices in media, government and health care state that sexual orientation is inborn and unchangeable; however, that has never been proven. In their view, if your child is destined to be attracted to members of the same sex, nothing can or should be done about it other than accepting it. Gay and lesbian activists proclaim that adolescents who feel same-sex inclinations should explore, embrace and celebrate their homosexual identity and that their parents should celebrate it along with them.

The vast majority of parents, while neither hating homosexual individuals nor applauding homosexuality, deeply desire to see their adolescents eventually bear and rear children. They anticipate the joys of watching the next generation's courtships, marriages and family life. Therefore, contemplating a child's involvement in homosexual acts and in unconventional relationships for decades into the future is enough to provoke considerable concern. In addition, the sexually active homosexual lifestyle is very unhealthy. For example, approximately one in 10 teen homosexual males who is sexually active is infected with HIV – a fatal disease.

What you need to know

If your adolescent's sexual orientation is uncertain or if he or she has had one or more homosexual experiences:

  1. Don't assume that characteristics that fall outside your gender expectations indicate homosexual tendencies. A boy who has a slight build and prefers painting over pitching or fabrics over football may disappoint a father who envisioned bringing up a burly, athletic hero. A daughter who isn't shapely or petite and who excels at basketball rather than ballet may not fulfill a mother's expectations of magazine-cover femininity. But both need unconditional affirmation of their worth from parents who accept and encourage their particular strengths as appropriate.

    What may drive a teenager toward same-gender sexuality is ongoing rejection from parents or peers. Cutting remarks about a child's or teenager's size, shape or other attributes merely reinforce the idea that "I'm different from everyone else." If genuine acceptance is eventually offered by someone with a homosexual orientation, the teenager may conclude that "I'm different, so that must mean I'm gay – and furthermore, I've always been."

  2. Remember that adolescents may feel transient confusion about sexual identify, especially if they have had a sexual experience with someone of the same gender. Whether as a phase of rebellion and experimentation or as the result of sexual abuse in childhood, your child may have one or more same-sex encounters, which may raise questions in an adolescent about his or her ultimate sexual destination. It is therefore important for children and teens who have had such experiences to receive appropriate counselling that (among other things) will clarify the fact that these events have not destined them to a lifelong homosexual orientation.

  3. If you discover that your child has had one or more homosexual encounters, whether coerced or voluntary, you need to remain his strongest ally. A child or young adolescent who has suffered sexual abuse needs to know that what happened was not his fault and that you are not in any way ashamed of him. He will need comfort, reassurance that his physical boundaries are now secure and time to sort out his experiences, both with you (which will be very uncomfortable) and with a professional counsellor. It is crucial that the damage done by the abuser to a child's sexual identify and sense of self-worth be contained.

Maintain a balance

If the activities involved one or more peers and were not the result of coercion, your response should parallel what was outlined in connection with premarital heterosexual activity. You will need to make a particular effort to maintain a balance between taking a clear stand for moral principles and demonstrating that you and your adolescent are on the some team. Harsh expressions of revulsion and condemnation are counterproductive, will probably confirm an adolescent's feelings of alienation and may very well provoke more of the same behaviour. At the same time, a resigned and passive non-response ("Nothing can be done about this, so I might as well get used to it") squanders an opportunity to bring about change. As with other early and mid-adolescent sexual activity, conversation and counselling with someone who shares your values are in order.

Express love and acceptance

If your late adolescent moves into adulthood and becomes overtly involved in a homosexual lifestyle, your balancing act will become even more delicate – but no different from the approach you must take to any other of your grown child's choices that you find ill-advised or contrary to your values. It is possible and necessary – but at times also very difficult – to express love and acceptance without condoning the behaviour. You have the right and responsibility to insist that sexual activity be off-limits under your roof. But decisions about a number of other situations will be tough. For example, should your adult offspring's homosexual lover be included at the family Thanksgiving dinner?

You must commit to patience, prayer and perseverance. You may shed rivers of tears, but you must not allow animosity or bitterness to take root in your emotions. Most of all, you will need generous amounts of wisdom, because you may be the only voice expressing love while encouraging your child to begin the difficult process of disengaging from ongoing homosexual behaviour.

Excerpted from Let's Talk About Sex, published by Focus on the Family. © 1998 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox