Helping your teen share personal information, come out and deal with being outed

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It's up to your child who they talk to about their personal information and what details they choose to share. Find out tips to help your child talk to others about sensitive topics and what to do when others share their personal information without their consent.

Key points

  • “Coming out” is a term to describe the action of when a person no longer keeps private a certain aspect about themself.
  • “Being outed” is when someone shares sensitive personal information about another person without their consent.
  • There is no one “right” way to share personal information, and your child doesn't need to tell anyone they don't want to or share any details they are not comfortable sharing.
  • Only your child can know when the right time is to come out. They have the right to feel safe and to be in charge of making the decision to come out.

Some people are very open with their personal lives. Other people share personal information with only their closest friends and family. Personal information can be any information that is unique to a person and relates to them. This can include things like their sexual orientation, gender identity, financial status, home life, religion or personally held beliefs, medical history, and many other identifying details about them.

It is up to your child who they talk to about sensitive topics and what details they choose to share.

Coming out

The term “coming out” is a shortened version of the phrase “coming out of the closet”. It is a metaphor for when a person no longer keeps private a certain aspect about themself and has traditionally been used to describe the process of understanding, accepting and disclosing sexual orientation or gender identity. But, it can also be applied more broadly to any sensitive personal information that a person has decided to make publicly known.

Why might my child consider coming out?

Your child should never feel pressured to come out; but if they are ready, below are some reasons why they might want to share their news with others:

  • They have accepted this information about themself and are ready for their friends and family to know (e.g., they have come to terms with a medical diagnosis, they have accepted their sexuality, they have acknowledged their gender identity is different from what they were assigned at birth, etc.).
  • They feel like they are not being their true, authentic self and would like to be accepted for who they really are.
  • They no longer want people making assumptions about them or spreading misinformation.
  • They would like to combat stereotypes or negative labels.
  • They are excited about who they are and want to share that with other people in their life.

Why might it be better for my child to wait before coming out?

Even if your child has important personal information to share, it is important they feel comfortable that the time is right. Below are some reasons why your child might not want to share their news with others:

  • They are simply not ready yet. They are still trying to process the information and figure out how they feel.
  • The information is private, and it is simply no one else’s business to know.
  • They are worried about how their friends and family will react to the news (e.g., being abandoned by their community, losing friendships, etc.).
  • They are afraid of bullying, harassment, discrimination and/or violence.

Who should my child tell and how?

The first and most important step to coming out is making sure that your child is comfortable sharing their information with someone else. Once they are ready, they can start by sharing their news with one trusted person who they feel will be very supportive. This might be you, another trusted family member, their best friend or a counsellor. From there, they can begin to share the news with others.

It will also help them to choose what they disclose, and the place and time where they share it, carefully based on what is most comfortable and safe for your child. They can share as much or as little as they want to, and they can do it in person, over the phone or in writing (on paper or online). Your child can also share resources like websites or support networks too. These can provide extra context about their situation to their friends and family and explain some of the details on their behalf.

How will my child’s friends and family respond?

When your child tells you, their family and their friends their personal news, you may not react the way your child hoped or thought you would. Your reaction may make your child feel angry or disappointed, or make them feel like you don’t understand what they are going through. Often our first reaction to new or unexpected information is not how we would normally react to other news. You may need time to process this information, just as your child first did.

On the other hand, your reaction might be surprisingly good! Your child might be surprised by how much you understand and how much better they feel knowing they still have your support. It may seem difficult for them, but your child will likely need to help you and other family members and friends understand what kind of support they expect from you. Remember that before your child came out, they were maybe still figuring things out.

Being outed

When someone shares sensitive personal information about a person without their permission, or they find out that person’s news without the person telling them, this can be referred to as “being outed”. Like the term “coming out”, being outed is usually used within the LGBTQ2S+ community to describe disclosing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent.

Being outed can be a very scary experience because it can lead to consequences that your child is not yet prepared to handle. If your child has been outed, below are a few ways that they can take back control of the situation:

  • Accept what has happened and come out again on their own terms. Even though the news is no longer a surprise, it can be helpful for your child’s mental health to say what they want to say in their own words. Showing confidence during this time can also demonstrate that they will not let other people dictate their coming out experience.
  • Seek out their support networks, including you and other supportive family and friends. You can help comfort your child during this time and offer your assistance in stopping any gossip.
  • Stick to routines. It can help your child to continue their daily activities as normal to keep their mind off the situation and to show others that they are still the same person they were before the news was shared.
  • Make new friends with people who share their experience. It is nice for your child to know they are not alone. They can connect with others through an organization, support group or online community.
  • Talk to a mental health professional if they are feeling overwhelmed or having a tough time dealing with the situation.

Supporting your child who has come out

Coming out is a very personal and often complicated decision. If your child shares their sensitive personal information with you, it is sometimes hard to know how to react in the moment. You may be surprised, happy, confused, worried, all of these things at once or none of these at all. Whatever your initial reaction, it is important to remember that by coming out to you your child trusts you to be kind, supportive and discreet with the information. Below are some ways that you can help to support your child who has come out to you:

  • Respect their privacy. They do not have to tell you everything, and they do not need to share all of the details at the same time. If you have questions, be sure to ask them kindly and without judgement.
  • Treat your child the same as you did before they shared their news. Just because you know something a little more personal about them does not mean your relationship has to change.
  • Ask your child what they need from you. They might need you to help them share the news with others or they might simply want you to listen and be emotionally supportive. It is always best not to assume.
Last updated: August 16th 2021