Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Modern Family Redefined: How and When to Tell Siblings of GLB Teens



It’s hard to know what to tell the sibling of a gay/lesbian teen. Should you or your gay teen divulge the news about his/her brother’s orientation? What should the sibling hear first?  and from whom: his parent or the gay brother or sister? How should you approach the subject? 

While some parents may regard this as a teachable moment that will allow you to share your values and beliefs about sexual orientation with your children, others may blush and find it even more difficult to broach the subject than sex education. You don’t want your child to hear the news from outside sources such as a classmate who may not have reliable information. Nor do you want your kid to think you are withholding information because you regard your GL teen’s sexual identity shameful. 

In any case, the information should be delivered in such a way that the sibling will continue to look up to the older brother/sister.  If the child asks “will I be gay? “Assure him/her that although his sibling is gay, it’s not definite that he/she will be.

Here’s a guide for revealing conversations, based on the sibling’s age, as suggested by Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D., a Manhattan psychiatrist:
“I think it’s important to expose all children to the concept of homosexuality once they are older than five years old.” You can say some boys marry boys, some girls marry boys, and some girls marry girls. For example, brother James is a boy who likes boys. Then explain to them that they can decide whomever they want to marry when they’re older. 

What you tell a child depends largely on their developmental age/maturity and their “emotional intelligence.” Try not to tell too much, only what’s digestible. Parents often make the mistake of answering more than what the child is asking of them and overdo it when discussing “the facts of life,” divorce or death). If the child wants or needs more answers, he/she will ask questions, and you can then answer them as honestly and straightforwardly as possible.