Talking with Your TeenAbout Tough Questions:Basic Principles

An adapted excerpt from Critical Conversations by Tom Gilson© 2016 by Tom Gilson. Published by Kregel Publications. All rights reserved.


By Tom Gilson

There is one primary thing that keeps parents from talking to their teens about issues related to homosexuality and same sex marriage: it’s awkward. But there are ways to break through that discomfort. I’m so grateful that my son and daughter, now in college and beyond, have felt the freedom to remain open with us as parents. We haven’t been perfect parents—far from it—but we’ve found ways to keep lines of communication open with them.

Here are five principles I’ve learned through my own experience and the experience of others for talking with your teen about tough subjects—general principles that you can apply to much more than LGBT issues.

1. Ask Good Questions

Every parent wants their teen to be open with them. One of the best ways to help them open up is by asking good questions. (Jesus was a master at asking questions!) Here are some example questions for you to consider asking your teen.

•Do you have any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender friends? What’s it like for you when they talk about their relationships or their feelings?

•What do you think about gay marriage being allowed now?

•Do your friends think of Christians as being anti-gay?

•Do you know what you think about the whole issue?•Which gay-rights issues make the most sense to you? Which ones don’t make sense to you?

•What questions have come up in school about gay rights? Have you discussed LGBT issues in any of your classes?

•Does it make you uncomfortable that our church preaches and teaches against homosexuality? What would your friends say if they heard that message?

Obviously some of these fall into the category of dangerous questions—dangerous for your teen, that is. He or she may wonder, Should I answer what I think, or what my parents want to hear? That leads directly to my next point.

2. Be a Safe Listener

If we want our teens to share openly with us, we need to be safe people for them to share with. But what does it mean to be a safe listener when you’re the parent, and when the questions are this potentially risky?

•Care enough to take the time to listen

•Love them no matter what questions or opinions they have

•Remember they can sense insincerity

•Respond, don’t react – no matter what your child says

•Accept the risk that your child has to develop their own convictions

3. Don’t Brush Off Questions

My wife and I sat appalled. A friend of ours was telling the story of her background. We had known her for years, or thought we had. She and her family were deeply involved in our church. That evening, though, we found out that her spiritual journey had not been what we’d been led to believe. She had been faking it. Recently—finally!—she had made a genuine, life-changing turn to the Lord.

That evening she told us the rest of the story. A lot had gone wrong, and it all began in her teenage years when the leaders in her church told her she shouldn’t ask hard questions.

If we want our teens to share openly with us, we need to be safe people for them to share with.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people say, “They told me at my church not to ask questions, but just to believe.” In my experience, almost every one of those people turned to disbelief. Some of them came back to faith, but not all.

•Take questions seriously: Young people need to explore their doubts freely. If we send them signals that their questions are too dangerous to ask, what are they going to think? Are they going to go elsewhere with their questions? If they do, who knows who that someone might be, or what that someone might tell them?

•Avoid the biblical brush-off: don’t say, “It’s in the Bible, so believe it.” Our kids need to know why they should believe what Christianity teaches. I can’t tell you how crucial this is.

•Celebrate questions you can’t answer as an opportunity to work through it together.

4. Explore Ideas Together

Whether you’re dealing with issues that are unfamiliar to you or you’re confident you already have all the answers, take the time to work through the issues with your teen. They’ll benefit from the process, and you may find you have something to learn along the way as well.

Help them evaluate the information they’re running into, not only online, but almost everywhere they go.

5. Watch Out for Land Mines

These issues can be very personal, sometimes in ways you don’t know. You can trip over land mines: unknown factors that can make a seemingly safe discussion blow up unexpectedly.

Suppose you’re talking with your son, Jason. Jason has a good friend named Michael. Jason knows Michael has decided he’s gay. Their classmates know, too. Jason has seen them harassing him over it, both at school and at church. He knows how much it’s hurting Michael.

Into this situation, you drop one of the questions I suggested at the beginning of this article: “Do your friends think of Christians as being anti-gay?”How do you think your son would respond? Chances are, his answer will have more to do with Michael than with what the Bible says—and that’s not entirely wrong.

Yes, there could be something wrong about it, especially if your son lets Michael’s experience trump God’s truth in his mind. It’s good, though, for him to talk freely about his friend and what he’s going through. You would want to support him in that. Otherwise the conversation might blow up on you.

That’s not the only potential land mine in a teen’s life. There’s pressure from school, from media, from other friends and acquaintances, even the irrational pressure of thinking that standing against gay rights is old-fashioned—that it belongs to your generation, not theirs.

You can defuse these kinds of potential explosions by responding, not reacting or escalating the tension. Just acknowledge the situation for what it is, and keep on listening.

For more advice on talking to your children about homosexuality visit

Tom Gilson is the Senior Editor and Ministry Coordinator for the top conservative daily online news and insight website The Stream. A 36-year veteran of ministry leadership with Cru, BreakPoint and Ratio Christi, Gilson holds a Master’s degree in organizational psychology. He’s the author of Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens. He lives with wife, Sara, in Lebanon, Ohio. They have two college-aged children.

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