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Archive for Monday, February 20, 2012

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Double Take: All parties need sensitivity when a child comes out

February 20, 2012

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Miranda: There may be no harder life situation for a teen than to be gay and at the point of coming out to your family. The overturning of Proposition 8 in California shows how far society has come in accepting same-sex relationships, but many gay teens and young adults still struggle to find social acceptance. While being “normal” may be overrated in the long run, as teenagers it’s what we strive to achieve. Being openly gay throws an extra variable into that plan, as teens deal with accepting themselves, then trying to find acceptance among their parents and peers. It’s a difficult task.

We each have different relationships with our parents or guardians, so it’s hard to predict how any given parent will react to this news. Coming out is a delicate process, especially with parents who are uncomfortable with the idea.

I suggest you start out slow and ease them into it. Remember that this is big news for them, requiring a shift in how they view their child, and how they will continue to view him or her for the rest of their lives.

Parents are supposed to love their children unconditionally. Unfortunately, things aren’t always so idealistic. For a gay teen, the fight to be accepted for who you are is often a tough, uphill battle with parents. So try to give them time and patience to come around. Be ready to stand up for what they may view as your “decision” to be gay. The phrase “hope for the best, and expect the worst,” comes to mind.

There are many resources out there for help, and researching your local area support groups can be a huge aid as well. Being honest with your family is a huge step, and a hard one to take, but undoubtedly necessary and worth it in the long run.

Dr. Wes: In my 19 years of practice, we’ve come a long way as a society in understanding and accepting gay relationships. Polls indicate that for the majority of under-30s, being gay or straight is really a nonissue. For the rest of society, this trend is either wonderfully liberating or horrifically offensive. For reasons I cannot fathom, we’re sitting around in this country right now debating the wisdom of something as noncontroversial as birth control, so we can assume the issue of gay rights is far from settled in many people’s minds.

I agree with Miranda. The worst thing a parent can do in confronting a gay son or daughter is to condemn them for making a “bad lifestyle choice.” The real choice is whether to be open and honest about one’s orientation, not whether they experience it as real.

At the same time, there’s a growing movement among teens and young adults that leans away from labels of “gay” and “straight” and toward attraction to a given person, regardless of gender. I’ve increasingly met young people who are dating a same-sex peer but would not call themselves “gay.” They simply fell in love with that individual and do not feel encumbered by any one sexual expression.

It is my well-honed gut instinct that this is the shape of things to come, as this generation rises from young adulthood and takes control of the world. Whether you see this as a cause for hope and joy, or fear and loathing, these distinctions will become much less prominent in my lifetime.

So my best advice to parents on this topic sounds a great deal like my best advice on most topics: Try to remain calm. Your teen is learning who she is. She may act as though she’s sure, but she isn’t and the more you push against that exploration, the more she’s likely to galvanize her resistance and quit exploring.

The second worst thing you can say to someone coming out is that he is “just going through a phase,” so I do not mean to imply that teens and young adults are incapable of knowing their own minds. I’m simply speaking from experience. Many teens are quite certain of their sexual orientation at 14 and remain so throughout adulthood. Others struggle mightily to figure it all out. And many are quite certain at 16 and then quite certain again at 21, even though they’ve changed orientation 180 degrees.

Nothing in adolescence is so much a “phase” as it is a journey and one that comes without a clear map. Please try and remember this if your son or daughter asks to have this difficult conversation.

And did I mention, “try to remain calm”?

Comments

KansasPerson 2 years, 7 months ago

"For reasons I cannot fathom, we’re sitting around in this country right now debating the wisdom of something as noncontroversial as birth control...."

Dear Dr. Wes,

Since you are in practice, would it not be wise to invest in some cultural-competency training, such as is required for many health professionals? It is possible that someday you might have a client who is a practicing Catholic and who believes in and practices the Church's teachings on Theology of the Body. Of course you don't have to agree with their stance (as I am sure you do not agree with the beliefs of every potential client) but at least you would understand where they are coming from. From this article, it sounds like you have done no reading on it at all. Would you be content to remain equally ignorant of other religious beliefs of people who might seek your counsel someday?

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deec 2 years, 7 months ago

Why do you feel it is necessary for a doctor to understand one religion's stance? It is unlikely someone who believes birth control is wrong will request a prescription for the pill. There's that personal responsibility thing we're always hearing about from the cons. If the religionists would stop trying to foist their beliefs off on everyone else, there wouldn't be a controversy

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KansasPerson 2 years, 7 months ago

Hi Deec,

I am not sure, but I think you might have misunderstood me. Dr. Crenshaw is in family therapy, is he not? Is it not possible that a couple that seeks his counsel might also be a Catholic couple that practices NFP? It is not unheard of, even in Lawrence, for such families to exist. I don't understand your stance against cultural competency, but I assure you that it is strongly encouraged, and in some organizations required, for health professionals, and I do not see why it wouldn't be a good idea for mental-health professionals as a subset of that group.

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KansasPerson 2 years, 7 months ago

Also (just to clarify) I don't think a caregiver or health professional should understand "one religion's stance" -- I think he or she should have at least a working knowledge of ALL cultures (which includes religions) with which he or she has a reasonable chance of interacting in the profession. I didn't mean to single out one religion in my response; it is true for all of them.

I apologize if I have misunderstood your comment, Deec.

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Clara Westphal 2 years, 7 months ago

What absolute foolishness to let a child believe he is gay. They aren't even old enough to decide an issue such as this. Be careful a parent is not forcing this on a child just to be 'with the times'.

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Nikki May 2 years, 7 months ago

Since I'm replying to different people, I'm staying out of the threaded replies.
While I don't know what birth control has to do with this topic, it was brought up. The argument over birth control isn't really about a religion or a choice. If you are Catholic and choose to not use it, that's fine. I'm sure the doctor knows that. Oh, and news flash, come Catholics are using birth control! Westcl, let's say for a second that a person can choose to be gay or straight. Why would a young adult make the choice to be gay? What's the benefit? These things can and do happen to teens who are openly gay or who people THINK are gay: Peers tease or beat them up. Parents treat them as outcasts and don't support them. They may not find a "date" until college. Being a teenager is HARD no matter what. Why would you CHOOSE to be treated bad on purpose. Now, I don't like it when I hear people say things like a 5 year old is gay. I know people say they were born that way. However, a young child is not sexually active straight or gay. Don't call a kid that doesn't fit your stereotype gay.
I think I had a point, but I lost it. So, in conclusion support your kids and try to treat everyone with respect.

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KansasPerson 2 years, 7 months ago

Hi PRMom,

I brought up contraception because Wes Crenshaw mentioned it in his column -- so although I was taking his tangent and running with it, I wasn't being as absolutely random as it may appear. :)

Yes, some Catholics are using contraception. However, just in case you see that 98% figure in the news, I urge you and anyone else to actually go and read the study on which it's based. Sloppy statistics. Check out the particulars of the questions they asked and the restricted sample they used.

"If you are Catholic and choose not to use it, I'm sure the doctor knows that." Just to clarify, I'm not talking about doctors who write prescriptions. I'm talking about people in the marriage and family counseling field, as Wes Crenshaw is.

If a traditional Catholic couple who is practicing NFP comes in for marriage or family counseling, the counselor should know a lot more than "Oh, they don't get a prescription filled at the pharmacy every month." NFP is a much bigger concept that just "not taking the Pill." It's an entire philosophy of marriage. The fact that no one in these comments, and obviously not Dr. Crenshaw, has any idea of this, shows that there is very little understanding of this in the general population, and yet people seem very eager to display their lack of knowledge. Again, you don't have to agree with it, but a counselor should at least have a working knowledge of it so that he or she can understand where the couple is coming from.

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blogme 2 years, 7 months ago

This argument that people wouldn't choose to be gay because it doesn't benefit them is rubbish. People get extreme tattoos or fill their bodies full of surgical metal piercings all the time knowing that they will not be accepted or that it will make them pariahs. Or, quite frankly, without the first thought of how they will be received. Is someone forcing them to do it? No, they think it's cool. I hate to break reality to you, but there's more than plenty of evidence that people don't have the capacity to think anything through anymore. Plain and simple.

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Nikki May 2 years, 7 months ago

Those are adults. Yes, they are making a choice that may cause problems down the road. However, I think you are missing the point of most kids are not going to bring that on themselves. I guess I just don't understand how people think it's a choice.

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blogme 2 years, 7 months ago

And my point is children have even less ability to think things through than so-called adults. Have you ever wondered why children have parents or legal guardians until they are 18? It's not because they are best able to make decisions as children. It's because their brains are still developing and hardly ready to make adult decisions such as the ones about sex. Wow

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Linda Endicott 2 years, 7 months ago

Whether they have the ability to make adult decisions, such as the ones about sex, they do it anyway...that's why there are so many teen pregnancies...

And you just try telling a kid that's 14 or older that they aren't adults yet...

Wow, indeed...

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