We learn a lot from what we watch on television, which is why it became instantly newsworthy when the longest-running children's animated series, Arthur, featured the character's teacher, Mr. Ratburn, coming out as gay *and* getting married in the 22nd season premiere back in May.
How’s that for the perfect way to influence the younger generation to understand love is love?
Still, it can be intimidating to figure out exactly how to start talking about LGBTQ+ awareness with your own kids — and how to move that discussion forward. Learn why it's important to always keep the door open and the chats ongoing if your child (or someone close to you) comes to you with questions, and find advice from experts in how to handle these conversations below.
1. Have a Support System (Starting with You)
Make it clear, early on, that your child has a strong support system behind them so they can feel more comfortable and safe opening up. Ashley McGirt, MSW, LCSW, suggests having conversations reinforcing that you will support and love your child no matter what is critical in forging a comfortable environment for children.
“I always recommend that parents and children have a support system. Having a strong support system is key along with letting go of any expectations,” McGirt said. “Be open, kind, and compassionate. To be compassionate literally means putting yourself in someone else’s footsteps and those steps may be that of your child prompting for you to view life and their lifestyle from a different lens.”
2. Be Fully Present
While the occasional conversation with your kid about how they are doing and what’s going on with them is a good start, making it known that you are interested, compassionate, and present in their life is even better.
Brian Wenke, executive director of the It Gets Better Project, says the most important thing you can do as a parent is take a genuine interest in your child's life.
“What are they interested in? What are they passionate about? How do they feel about certain issues? Listen to them and actively engage,” Wenke explained. “Being present, showing you care, and ensuring your kids feel loved is half the battle.”
3. Make a Point to Start Now
One big question parents have is when they should have a conversation with their kids about what LGBTQ+ stands for and what “coming out” means. Crystal Rice, LGSW and therapeutic consultant, says that all too often, parents want to present a topic to their children as if it's a meal.
“You sit. You talk. Then you rise and it's done,” Rice explained. “But conversations about complex topics are more of a revolving door, or a 24-hour buffet on a cruise ship that one day you gorge yourself on and the other you pick up a pretzel and walk away. The most important thing to do is to START. And then after that, it's answering any questions they have. If they're young and they don't have questions, then leave it. If you've opened that door, they'll ask when they do. And if they're older, they'll know you're there to provide information, not just a lecture."
Rice says the best place to start is talking to your kids about LGBTQ+ by first asking what they think about the subject. "Do you know anyone who has come out?" or if they're younger, "What have you heard / Have you heard anyone use the term 'gay' or 'lesbian?'" Then, use their responses and follow-up questions to guide the conversation forward.
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