To begin with, don’t become fixated on this issue. That in itself could be terribly counterproductive. Whatever you do, you don’t want to shame your son, slap a label on him, or overreact to behaviors and temperamental tendencies which may mean very little, if anything at all. Such overreaction could actually have the effect of forcing the issue and focusing his attention on “problems” that don’t really exist.
Far better to concentrate on creating an environment in your home in which sexual issues can be discussed without awkwardness or fear, and where your son feels safe talking to you about any subject under the sun. Within that context, make a conscious effort to launch the conversation on a positive note by discussing God’s design for marriage and healthy sexuality, beginning with Genesis 1:27 – “male and female He created them.” Then, on the basis of that foundation, you can dialogue about sexual problems and dysfunctions as the need arises.
Meanwhile, be aware of and guard against the danger of embracing and imposing on him an overly narrow definition of masculinity. To be a man is not simply to be a clone of John Wayne or Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are, in fact, almost as many different ways of being a healthy male as there are boys and men in the world, some of which entail gentle strength, soft-spokenness, awareness of beauty, and benevolent sensitivity to the feelings of others. A wise parent looks for ways to nurture a boy’s special inborn inclinations so that he can grow into the unique man God intended him to be, whether that means a linebacker, a veterinarian, or a gourmet chef.
In a situation like the one you’ve described, the chief thing is to help your son strike a healthy balance between his relationships with girls and his connections with boys. You don’t need to prohibit female friendships altogether, but you should take steps to guide, steer, and shape your boy so that he learns what it means to form meaningful bonds with other males. While both parents are important, your involvement and role as a dad is especially unique and critical in this situation. Make every effort to enter into your son’s world, as well as to introduce him to the world of men. Do what you can to help him become part of a male peer group that has significance for him. Find older male role models who share his interests and who can affirm and encourage him in the things he likes to do. Look for boys of his own age who have similar enthusiasms and who can form solid friendships with him on the basis of those pursuits. Create an environment in which those friendships can grow and flourish. Plan events, outings, and get-togethers directed towards that end. If you need assistance in this area, talk to your church’s youth leader or one of your son’s school teachers. They may be able to direct you to the kind of young men who would make great companions for your boy.
It would also be a good idea to help your son start thinking about girls in another light. You might do this by initiating a conversation with him about the attributes and characteristics he would value in a mate. The goal of this discussion would be to open his mind to the idea that females are different. It’s important that he cultivate an ability to relate to girls without being “one of the girls” – to observe and admire their beauty and sensitivity without identifying with those qualities. Stated simply, he needs to bond with other boys while learning to see girls as other than himself.
We’d also encourage you to honestly examine, and if necessary, work on your own insecurities about masculinity. Most men have some struggles with their own masculine identity. A father can’t pass on what he doesn’t have, so working with other men to achieve healing in this area would be helpful to you in dealing with a son who is also struggling.
It’s worth adding that family dynamics can often play an important role in the genesis of gender non-conformity or gender dysphoria. Is there anything about your son’s relationship with you or anyone else in your family that might predispose him to feel safer and more comfortable around girls? A boy who reacts against his biological sex-assignment and manifests this reaction in his behavior can sometimes be acting as a messenger or “symptom-bearer” for the rest of the family – or at the very least, indicating extra-familial stressors that he’s absorbed from his world in some way. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s calling attention to deeper issues embedded within the fabric of the environment in which he is growing up. In essence, he’s issuing a wake-up call to other members of the household. In such instances, the best plan of action is to get the entire family into family-systems counseling. This way the family and the entire context surrounding your teen, including factors beyond the immediate borders of the home, can be considered. As the hidden needs are brought to light and dealt with, the behavior can be better understood and addressed for what it might be signaling in the life of the child. As the particular affirmation or emotional needs of a developing youngster are more fully addressed in their family or in their larger social environment, there may be gradual and spontaneous changes in their outward behavioral expressions. Likewise, with very gentle and measured encouragement, they may gain new openness or felt-safety in navigating the world of same-sex peers (and mentors) with whom they need to experience a relative level of ease, camaraderie and belonging.
Focus on the Family has a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you over the phone. They can refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area. They’d also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you person-to-person. Call our Counseling department for a free consultation.
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