One of my goals at Parenting Today’s Teens is to provide parents with all the tools I can offer to help them connect with kids in deeper, more meaningful ways. This is a privilege I do not take lightly. Because I want to help moms and dads as much as I can, I often have to broach sensitive issues. If I were to shy away from these tough conversations, it would mean that I’m not doing my job. And perhaps there is no subject today that is more sensitive than same-sex relationships.
Recent polls report that only 2 to 3 percent of the nation experiences same-sex attraction. But homosexuality affects 100 percent of the population. It’s an issue that is increasingly in the social spotlight, and it will not be leaving for some time. While I have firm beliefs on the subject, my goal is not to enter into a debate or defend one viewpoint or the other. My focus in this letter is to help you engage with your child on this topic in a loving, thoughtful and well-founded manner. The cultural winds that blow through your teenagers’ lives are different than they were when you were a teen. Your teen has friends who identify as gay or lesbian, or knows someone who is homosexual. And they see same-sex relationships portrayed as normal behavior on television, in interviews, and in public. Even if you aren’t engaged in the conversation about sex and sexual orientation, your teens are. So how can you ensure that your teen hears your voice on this subject in a loving manner?
Understand the Culture
Many times Christians use “culture” as a catchall for our problems. That’s not to say that cultural criticism is unfounded. But culture is not the problem, sin is. Culture is like the air we breathe; we can’t escape from it, and if it’s impure, we can’t just hold our breath and avoid it. We can only do our best to purify it. To discover and correct the impurities in the air we breathe, we have to run tests. To discover and engage the impurities in culture, we have to pay attention to what’s happening around us with a discerning eye.
So how does this apply to your relationship with your teen? If you want to gain access to your teen’s conversation, you have to know what you are talking about, and where the conversation is! When it comes to homosexuality, it’s not viewed the same way today as it was in our day. Not only is being gay or lesbian acceptable, it’s practically a non-issue for a new generation. Our kids are starting to ask an important question: “Who cares who you love?”
There was a collective gasp when pop star Katy Perry sang, “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” But that really wasn’t the start, nor the end, of musicians, actors and celebrities using their platforms to share their views on same-sex relationships. The popular hip-hop musician Mackelmore, while not gay, recently came out with a song in defense of the gay and lesbian population, whom he feels is being treated unfairly. The song titled “Same Love” has passed 50 million views on YouTube already, which means 50 million young people are hearing his creative message. One excerpt from the song’s lyrics state, “When I was at church they taught me something else / If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed / That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.” Mackelmore goes on to sing, “we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago / I don’t know,” while repeating “Love is patient / Love is kind / Love is patient / Love is kind.” In other words, pop stars have seen the hypocrisy practiced by some Christians and are wrestling with the relationship between the Bible and hate-speech towards gays and lesbians. We’ve probably all read news articles about overly zealous Christians who have attacked homosexuals both verbally and physically. But are we addressing these issues with our kids? Or are we allowing pop stars to lead the conversation for us?
To influence our kids in the conversation about homosexuality, we have to do a little research to find out what is already being said, who is saying it, and what your teen is thinking about it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to join a conversation that’s already over and answer a question that’s already been decided.
Know What You Believe
As the debate continues around the topics of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, the arguments on both sides can be convincing. That’s why before you engage your teen in the conversation, you need to know what you believe and why you stand firm in your convictions. Now, this doesn’t mean you should take your views (even if they are right) and use them to batter your child into agreeing with you. But if you’re not firm in your beliefs about homosexuality, your teen will pick up on the ambiguity. I usually tell parents to always keep an open mind when speaking to their kids, but in this case, go into the conversation standing strong for what you believe and make sure you are able to give adequate and logical reasons for why you believe it.
Start the Conversation Early
Yes, it can be very awkward to talk about sex with your child, especially at a young age. However, both heterosexual and homosexual relationships are in full view in our world, and what your child sees and hears can cause a lot of confusion in their minds. A friend of mine was pushed into having a conversation about homosexuality with her 12-year-old son when, while at a basketball game, a same-sex couple was caught on the Jumbo-Tron Kiss-Cam. While her son had heard about homosexuality, it was still confusing to see two men kissing. Whether or not my friend was ready, she had to engage her pre-teen son in a conversation about homosexuality, and help him process what he had been exposed to.
Your conversation should be age-appropriate, but it also needs to happen early. 9, 10, and 11 year-olds are already talking about homosexuality, sexual experimentation, and the meaning of marriage. Mom and Dad; you need to jump into the conversation right now, and help your teen work through this issue.
Keep the Conversation Going
Start the conversation early, and keep it going. Your son or daughter’s view on homosexuality will not change or solidify through a single conversation. It could take a year, or ten years! This will most certainly be an on-going dialogue. The discussion regarding homosexuality is not a one-and-done deal. Keep it going, and keep it current and honest.
When talking with your teen about homosexuality, here are some additional tips to help the conversation stay positive:
- Don’t overact! It may happen that your teenage son or daughter comes to you with the news that they are gay or lesbian. If you think this would never happen to you, talk to the parents of other gay or lesbian children. You’ll find out they used to think the same thing. Or maybe your teenager simply doesn’t agree with your view on homosexuality. In either case, you may feel sad or hurt, but don’t react with anger, or blame, or condemnation. Your teen needs to know they are safe and loved, regardless of their lifestyle choices or beliefs.
- Don’t be judgmental! Don’t use homosexuality as a put-down. Refrain from denigrating those who are gay or lesbian. Avoid sweeping judgments about the homosexual community. Such comments and actions will only push your kids away and make it even more difficult for you to have a meaningful conversation with them about the subject.
- Don’t be afraid to reference the Bible! Scripture doesn’t change. Its words and guidelines are just as relevant today as they were yesterday. So in your conversations with your teen, don’t be afraid to use the Bible, not as a weapon, but as a foundation your beliefs. But make sure you dig into the text on your own ahead of time. You don’t want to be caught unawares because you misinterpreted a passage.
I understand homosexuality is a very sensitive issue for many people. But as Christian parents, we cannot be afraid to get involved in this ongoing discussion. Your teens are hearing from the culture about homosexuality. But what are they hearing from you?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a counseling facility for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. Check out our website, www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with effective parenting ideas, helpful articles, and practical tools and resources for moms and dads. Visit our website, where you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens podcast, or find a radio station near you to listen to our broadcasts. You can also call us directly at 1-866-700-3264 to find out about any upcoming events.