NBA center Jason Collins appears on the cover of the May 6, 2013, edition of Sports Illustrated. Collins seems like an unlikely choice. He’s a journeyman player, playing for six pro teams, appearing in two NBA Finals, and averaged only 1.1 points per game last season.

But that’s not why he was on the cover of SI. He was there because he revealed that he’s gay. This is big news because he’s the first openly gay player to come out while still active in any of the major sports.

Last month, NBA legend Magic Johnson made headlines because of his support for his openly gay son, Earvin Johnson III, who is 20 years old. “in the midst of all this media attention i would like to say that i am truly blessed to have parents that love and support me @MagicJohnson,” Johnson III tweeted.

Joy Crabtree, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist for Cook Children’s Behavioral Health in Southlake has seen a number of kids who were either trying to figure out their sexual identity, or had already told their parents they were gay.

Even the most open-minded parents may struggle for the right words after learning their child is gay. Crabtree stresses it’s not what’s said that matters. It’s the actions that count.

“For parents, the most important reaction isn’t about what they say to their child,” Crabtree said. “It’s about making sure the teen/child understands they are loved and supported. Parents won’t have all the answers initially, it’s OK to say that, and there will be an adjustment phase for everybody in the family. But, immediately, the only thing the teen needs to know is that they are loved, no matter what.”

As time progresses, Crabtree said families should emphasize discussion and if they  need therapy to find resources such as therapy, including individually, with the family and outside support groups for teens.

“Parents need to realize that typically high levels of anxiety and depression often accompany questions of sexual identity and the coming out process,” Crabtree said. “Therefore, the more communication, support, and resources, the better.”

For Lena Zettler, MA, LPA, director of Psychology at Cook Children’s, her experience with young people coming out is both personal and professional. Her “very best friend in the whole world, since first grade, is gay. Always has been.”

Zettler said her friend was not sexualized from first grade forward, but she was nonetheless different and not like the other girls. “For her, being gay is not just about an adult sexual relationship. It involves something deeper and broader. Her identity and her integrity,” Zettler said. “Like many gay folks, her internal self was very different from her external self, for a long time. She came out with me and her parents when she was in her twenties. Her parents, by the way, had already figured it out.”

From her professional experience, Zettler said that part of the real pain that kids/teens feel is the disconnect between what is perceived and valued (their outside self) and who they really are on the inside.

“This is a very emotional road for all to navigate and the best advice, from my experience, is for parents to find a counselor who can help them grieve if needed, and grow around this issue,” Zettler said. “Unfortunately, I have worked with parents who really do think that therapy (or any process) will somehow ‘undo’ this.  Denial is a part of the grieving process but hopefully with an experienced counselor, a family can move through the other stages of this, and not be stuck.

I think it’s also important for parents to know is that this is a complex issue. Please note I didn’t say problem, or disorder or condition. Human behavior is complex; humans are complex, and certainly the factors surrounding sexual orientation are complex.  We don’t have to fully understand all of this complexity, however, to continue to love our children for who they are.”

Jeff Calaway is the Information and Publications Specialist at Cook Children’s and a contributing writer to this Web site. Jeff is a husband and father. He loves running and Bruce Springsteen, although not necessarily in that order.

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