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My son is a high school sophomore who has been difficult since first grade. He’s very manipulative and I’m pretty good at seeing it. He was exposed to alternative lifestyles during his freshman year and has announced that he’s not interested in girls and could be gay. I think he tried once to have a relationship with a girl, was made fun of, and has never been interested in a relationship again.
Because of my son’s flamboyant personality, he’s been called gay since entering middle school. He’s always been very defensive about this and has denied being gay. I fear he’s either looking for my reaction or trying to fit in with his new group. I’m lost; how can I help him and what should I do?
It’s hard to know whether your son has been difficult because he has indeed felt different related to his sexual identity or whether he’s questioning his sexuality based on opposition and a bad experience with a girl. It takes a lot of questioning and exploration for kids to find both their sexual and personal identities. His flamboyance is likely a communication of who he believes he is, although it may be just an attention-seeking behavior. His attraction to an alternative lifestyle could also be who he is, or part of his opposition, or a response to the bullying he experienced in earlier grades.
f your son is indeed looking for your reaction to the possibility of his being gay, your best response would be one of assuring him that if he is, you’ll surely continue to love and accept him. You could also explain that many people experience some mixed feelings about their sexuality during their teen years. While some people seem quite certain of their sexual identities by adolescence, others continue to feel uncertain for quite a long time. This seems to be a good time to offer your son counseling so that he can work through his feelings.
You haven’t mentioned if your son is a good student or if he’s rebellious and oppositional about school. If he’s a good student and moving forward in his studies, he’s more likely to put his whole identity together. However, if his rebelliousness has also led him to underachievement, then his hanging around with an alternative crowd can lead him easily in the drug and dropout direction, problems that can be much more serious than sexual identity issues. Perhaps a psychologist could help your son with the entire issue of identity rather than making this only an issue of sexuality.
Unfortunately, I know that high school students aren’t always eager to seek help. If you can’t convince him to get counseling, you’ll need to encourage his strengths, set reasonable limits, and be as supportive as possible while he’s finding himself.
Dr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters about raising boys and growing up too fast in high school, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s Articles for Parents and Teachers and submit family questions online at www.sylviarimm.com. All questions are answered.