By Jeff Johnston
What's going on with my son? you might be wondering. He's pulled away from your family and has isolated himself from his old group of friends — especially the kids from church. Then there's that new friend he's made. They act more like, well, boyfriends than boys who are friends.
Or maybe it's your daughter. She's had a hard time fitting in with other girls, but now she's dressing and acting different — more like that girl from her class.
As a parent, you may be worried that your child wrestles with same-sex attraction, behavior or identity. Sadly, this trend is increasing — influenced by the breakdown of the family and confusion in the church about God's design for sexuality. Add to this the enormous influence of pro-gay media, and it's no wonder young people are confused.
In discussing "secret sins" that teen girls struggle with and confess to her on her blog, author and speaker Jessie Minassian admits that one of the top five involves same-sex relationships. And a recent study confirms her experience, suggesting that a growing number of 18- to 24-year-olds do not identify as "exclusively heterosexual." Almost one-third place themselves somewhere on a scale where homosexuality is an option.
Young adults are more open to sexual experimentation than ever. What should you do if you suspect your teen is struggling?
Before tackling this emotional and complicated issue, step back and take a deep breath. This sounds counterintuitive: Everything in you wants to dive in and "fix" your teen. But you can't. If you try to do so, you will most likely push her away, rather than drawing her closer.
Let's deal with ourselves first. Here are a few thoughts to help with that.
Turn from any contempt or judgment for homosexual strugglers. Minassian says, "Teens can smell a judgmental person five million miles away." If you've been scornful about those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, your child will know it, and she certainly won't want to share any of her struggles with you. Ask God to change your heart, replacing contempt and disrespect with love and compassion toward other sinners.
Find someone safe to talk and pray with before you talk with your child. If you are married, ideally this would be your spouse. While moms and dads deal with emotional issues differently, it's important that the two of you agree with each other about how to address this matter with your child.
If you are a single parent, this person could be a close, trusted friend, mentor, pastor or counselor. Have several open, honest conversations about what you see in your child, what your fears are and possible ways to bring up the topic. Ask God to calm your heart and fill you with His love, instead of any shame or fear associated with your child and his possible homosexual struggle.
See your teenager as God does. The culture has witnessed a big shift in defining homosexuality. Over time, it has changed from being a behavior to a condition to a type of person — an identity.
However, this is not the biblical view. While Scripture teaches that sexual behavior outside of marriage is never permissible, that behavior is not considered an identity, something that defines a person. God does not see a "gay," "lesbian" or "homosexual" individual. He sees men and women, made in His image, deeply marred by sin and — like all of us — desperately needing a Savior.
Teens struggling with homosexuality, who put their confidence in Christ, are not "gay" or "gay Christians." They are sons and daughters of the King. Labels easily have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. So be careful not to use the world's labels on your child. You can acknowledge his struggle without placing a false identity on him.
Get educated and equipped. Do you know what the Bible says about homosexuality? Do you understand God's heart for sexual sinners? Go beyond what the media says and learn more about the lifestyle and mindset. This knowledge will better help you respond to your child and also navigate the many changes we're seeing and experiencing in our culture — and you'll be able to help your children think clearly about homosexuality and God's design for human sexuality.
Talk with your teen
Once you've addressed your own perceptions and attitudes, then it's time to address the matter with your teen.
Start by just spending time together. If you aren't already doing this, make it a priority to do something with your teen several times a week. You might say something like, "Honey, I know our lives are busy right now. But I want you to know that you are important to me. I want us to start doing things together more often." Then follow through. It could be as simple as eating meals together a few times a week. Or prepare a meal together, run an errand together, go shopping together — you get the idea.
Be more open about your own sins and struggles. Teens are much more likely to share with others who are open and honest than with those who present themselves as perfect. So share some of your struggles. "You know, I've been realizing how critical I am. God's talking to me about not being that way. If you hear me say something unkind about others, would you let me know?
After your teens pick their jaws up off the floor, they will start noticing that you are working at being open and honest. I'm not saying to tell your teens all the details of any sin you've been involved in, but let them know generally that you've struggled — and be sure to tell them how those sins negatively affected you.
Affirm the good in your children — often. Underneath it all, homosexual attractions aren't necessarily about sex. For boys, they often have more to do with self-image and envy, especially as it relates to masculinity. Be proactive about affirming the good you see in your son's masculinity — before you even broach the topic. And rather than addressing homosexuality directly, you might start with discussing masculinity. You might ask, "How does the world define masculinity? What does it really mean to be a man? What does God see as healthy manhood?"
For girls, they often long for connection with others, or for a healthy, internalized sense of femininity. Let your daughter know the good you see in her and in her femininity. You can also have discussions about being a woman: "What is healthy femininity? Does being a woman mean being a doormat? Being seductive? Being weak? How does God view womanhood? How do you struggle in this area?"
Get the conversation started: This is where a few wise people in your network will pray with you and give you good counsel. But there's no one-size-fits-all script for how to bring up the topic or specifically when to approach your child. Every situation is different. If you found gay pornography on your teen's phone or computer, for example, a more direct approach might be called for. But do so in love, without anger and accusation. If your teen is having a hard time building healthy relationships with same-sex peers or doesn't fit society's norms for masculinity or femininity, those might be the issues to bring up.
You might want to broach the issue more obliquely, by asking your teen, "I've been reading and hearing about issues teens struggle with. Do you know if any of your friends struggle with these?" It may be less awkward and confrontational to have this conversation when you're driving somewhere, because you're looking out the windshield, and are not making direct eye contact.
If your teenager's closest friends are sexually confused, if your teen is isolating herself or is rebellious, or if you discover she is struggling with same-sex attractions, you may want to consider family help from a pastor or counselor. A step like this will take guidance and prayer. Also make sure you confirm that the counselor's or pastor's views on homosexuality align with Scripture.
Assure your child of your unconditional love. One of the deepest questions in the human heart is this: If you know the worst about me, will you still love me? Affirm your child in your unconditional love for him. Let him know you care — whatever he struggles with. There is deep healing in receiving love and affirmation from you.
Jeff Johnston is an issues analyst for Focus on the Family.
From the Focus on the Family website at focusonthefamily.com. © 2016 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission.