Governor's disclosure tough issue

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    for parents to explain to children Gov. James E. McGreevey's bombshell announcement that he had cheated on his wife by having a gay affair brought the awkward issues of homosexuality and adultery into living rooms nationwide. Psychiatrists advise parents whose kids ask questions about McGreevey's disclosure to be honest, show patience, and have age-appropriate discussions. Dr. Jay Kuris, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, said what parents should tell children varies. "You have to talk to children at a level they will understand. Try to answer the part of the question that is troubling the child," Kuris said. That means not overcomplicating the conversation with young children, or oversimplifying it with older ones. "A young child with no concept of sexuality is going to have a very vague sense of whatever you are talking about," Kuris said. A 9-year-old, however, is capable of understanding that two men can love one another, Dr. David Rissmiller, acting chairman of the department of psychiatry the UMDNJ's School of Osteopathic Medicine. Many children that age have been exposed to homosexuality on television, he said. "In our practice, we talk very bluntly, using gender-neutral terms, about relationships and people loving each other," Rissmiller said. "You cannot deny such things go on," added Kuris. "You cannot deny in this society they are not well accepted, that there is controversy." Kids react to how the information is presented as well as its content, the doctors said. If information given in a straightforward fashion ``with no eyes down,'' kids are less likely to be traumatized, Rissmiller said. A parent's value system enters heavily into such discussions. A person whose religion teaches that homosexuality is wrong will have a very different discussion with a child than will a parent who is gay or bisexual, the psychiatrists said. "We have an 8-year-old girl in our practice who can't even say the word ‘gay' because of her mother's religious views," Rissmiller said. About 3 million American children are currently being raised by gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual parents, Rissmiller said. He cited recent studies suggesting such kids have no more problems than kids raised in heterosexual environments, provided that they live in tolerant climates where they are not teased or bullied by classmates or peers. Besides teasing, children in homosexual households also face difficulties, Rissmiller said, if their parents do not agree on sexuality issues. McGreevey has two daughters. Morag, 11, lives with the governor's first wife in British Columbia, and Jacqueline, 2, is the governor's daughter by his second wife, Dina Matos McGreevey. It is unclear if anyone in the family knew of the governor's sexuality before he publicly disclosed it on Thursday. Young children generally have an easier time accepting a homosexual parent than do older children, psychiatrists say. Adolescents who are the same sex as the gay parent tend to worry about their own sexual identity, Rissmiller said.