"Psychologically Speaking," a monthly column by Dr. J. Buzz von Ornsteiner
I want my parents to leave me alone and stop bugging me. I'm not into drugs and I don't run with gangs. I'm basically a loner, keeping to myself at school and staying in my room at night. My father is giving me a hard time since I'm a 16-year-old guy who collects photos of the singer Ricky Martin. He has always wanted me to take an active interest in team sports at my high school, but I have refused.
Last week my father came into my room and started ripping down all my Ricky Martin photos because he thinks I will never be "a man" and that I am "in love" with Ricky Martin. On top of all this my mom has become worried that I will get AIDS. We have never discussed anything regarding HIV, dating or sexuality and now with all this Ricky Martin stuff she says it's time for me to lay it all out. I don't want to talk to her or my father about all this stuff, although I do need to talk to someone about it. If I could leave home tomorrow I would -- with a one way ticket to Provicetown, Cape Cod. Right now I am very upset with my father and mother. What can I do right now to create some peace in my life and with my parents?
A Response to This Case Study
You have every reason to be upset. Your father showed very poor judgement in his actions. His immature stance clearly does not take your feelings into consideration. As long as your father continues to act in ways that criticize and humiliate you, the separation between the two of you will increase, and the resentment will build on both sides. Overwhelming research has pointed out that a person's sexual orientation is predetermined by a very young age. The fact that you are focused on Ricky Martin doesn't automatically determine anything, including your sexual orientation as an adult. It does mean that you enjoy a very popular handsome entertainer, as do millions of others.
However, if your orientation is homosexual, then you are adjusting normally, and your photo collection on Mr. Martin could be considered a teenage "crush" or a possible interest in singing as an occupational goal; I would consider both to be a natural process for any adolescent. Suppressing your interest in Ricky Martin by ripping the photos off the walls is clearly sending a message that what you are feeling or doing is wrong.
You do not need this nor will it change how you feel, and you will likely learn only to hide it from your father. For many gay teens, verbal and physical abuse are common place in our public schools and I find it very troubling that your father is not supportive. You sound isolated and at the very least you should be able to feel that your bedroom and your home are safe havens to explore your developing identity and possible sexual attractions. Communication would naturally be limited under your father's guidelines. However, there are many different avenues that you can take to find out more about sexuality, STDs and HIV, and to gain some peace for yourself and with your parents. Here are some possible solutions.
- First off, what health programs are accessible for you in your public school system? Are there individual social workers or psychologists working within the public school who interact with the student population? If mental health staff workers are actually available to you, please request to speak to these individuals. During your first meeting, request information on their clinical background and their educational knowledge on sexuality issues, STDs, and HIV protection. If they have limited knowledge and clinical experience, ask for possible referrals to additional programs outside of your school where you can receive this essential information. However, if in your judgement they are knowledgeable, then please consider them as one possible resource and inform your parents of your decision to speak with them on these important issues. This may lower your parents' concern on your sexual conduct and HIV knowledge.
- If your public school is not helpful, then begin to research programs where you can get information so you can speak to your father and mother from an informed standpoint. Start by going to your public library and requesting to see referral books for your community outreach programs. Inform your father and mother that you are seeking a solution to this family problem and ask them for their input and assistance. Please work with your father and educate him. You have a right to be whatever you want to be, and to love whomever you want to. Whatever your sexual orientation, you need and deserve the support of your father. Be consistent in your communication with him and move slowly, allowing your father to process new information and ideas.
- Try to foster your own independence and work to develop the social skills you need to cope in the present world outside of your home or public school system. Do you have any friends outside of school? How do you react and interact with people in general? Where do you envision yourself after high school? Attempt to do this by writing down a list of what you want in your life right now and then list your interests, such as collecting Ricky Martin photos. Develop from that list a second list for your short-term goals (up to 6 months) and for your long-term (1-2 years) goals. Allow these two lists to be your guide in developing what you wish to attain in the coming months and years. This list should continue to grow and change as you experience the world around you. This may bring you some peace of mind if you are clear and realistic in your direction and actually work toward these goals daily.
I would encourage you to speak to your mother and your father individually and together on these goals -- the family as a unit should have an idea how to plan for your future and to assist you at least emotionally with encouragement. Discuss a possible plan for you to leave home this summer; that would be on your list for your 6-month goals. For example: you could apply for a college program camp or look into working in a supervised summer program that would provide a respite from your parents and encourage a natural need for your own independence within an urban setting. You could also consider an internship program placed in the entertainment industry or summer job located at a resort location like Provicetown, Cape Cod. Your hope for Provicetown is not unrealistic, many young people do summer work housecleaning while receiving room and board as part payment, it is not unrealistic to consider this as a possible summer venture in your 17th year, possibly before you venture into college or long-term employment. These possible placements may be helpful for your independent growth and allow your father to reflect on his past actions as you continue to excel.
- Please try not to focus completely on your parents' negative behaviors. I am sure your father and mother have many positive traits and do many things well. You need to try to catch and praise your parents for their praiseworthy behaviors -- which may usually go unnoticed. Hopefully this will help in your family communication process. This would clearly be sending a message to your father and mother, that aside from the sexuality, HIV and dating issue, your family in general is a strong unit. In addition your behavior should indicate to your parents that you are able to conduct yourself in a mature and respectful manner regardless of the topic.
- Physical look as well as physical changes are central composites to adolescents. However, many times it is hormones that lead the direction in sexual activity rather than the emotional brain, although this can happen at any age not just for teenagers. Your mother has reason to be worried and she is concerned for your safety -- after all she was once a teenager herself. The point here is you are to be praised for your studying but additionally you also need to work out your brain when it comes to social skills, sexual interactions and HIV/STD protection. You may well be in danger of contracting HIV or STDs, and there is nothing wrong with an open, frank discussion about dating, condom use and safer sex with your parents, regardless of whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. It all begins with an open-ended, ongoing conversation with your mother or father or both. Let them know that you are educated on HIV protection.
- If your sexual orientation is homosexual or bisexual, I would also suggest you to consider gay/bi youth groups within your area where teenagers can attend and meet other teens weekly. These can be sources of support and have a great potential for social networking and gaining positive friendships outside the framework of school. They are usually conducted on Saturdays and your first step would be to call or visit the Website of the Gay Community center in your area and request information on their youth groups.
In conclusion please talk with and continue to educate your father and your mother, keep the communication open and honest and keep your cool. Good Luck!
"Psychologically Speaking" columnist J. Buzz von Ornsteiner, Ph.D. is a New York State-licensed psychologist working as a psychotherapist, educator, and behavioral consultant.