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I Humiliated my Cross-Dressing Teen

QUESTION: I recently discovered that my adolescent is experimenting with his sexuality by dressing in women's clothing. It bothers me a great deal, and I became quite rough with him. I made him wear women's clothing all day in front of the rest of the family. I even painted his fingernails and toenails with polish. He has now stopped doing it; however, I feel guilty for what I have done. What can I do to fix the situation?

ANSWER: You are right to be concerned about humiliating your son. The good news is that you are aware of your mistake. The bad news is that you have damaged his trust in you, which will make it less likely that he will turn to you for help or guidance in the future.

The first order of business is to work to repair the damage. Your son needs to know that you believe you made a mistake in how you handled his cross-dressing, and he needs a sincere apology. Let him know you were wrong in your punishment, and if you could do it over, you would have sat down and talked with him about what his cross-dressing means to him.

But do not stop there! Tell him that you are concerned that you may have broken his trust and would like to repair the breech between you. Do not press him to immediately respond. Give him some time to reflect on your apology and let it sink in.

Reflect on the reasons for your own reaction. Are you afraid he is "gay"? What does cross-dressing bring up for you with regard to your love for him? What is it that you fear for him? Are you afraid for his safety or welfare?

And what is it that you fear for yourself? If you are clear that your reactions were an initial result of fear, be ready to share this with him. Your words will carry weight if you let him know that your concern came from love, but that you reacted out of fear.

Be willing to accept and receive his anger at you for your actions, before expecting him to open up to you again. Once the air has cleared a bit, let him know that you do want to talk with him about your feelings and fears brought up by this event. And that you would like to understand the meaning of it for him. Hopefully, he will give you another chance!

Your son may simply need a safe place to talk about the changes he is experiencing in this tumultuous period of adolescence. Do not jump to conclusions at this time. And do not let your guilt override your responsibility to guide him.

Your son is a "beginning" adult. No longer a child, but not yet a grown-up, your relationship with him must change. He has to gradually take on the responsibility of making decisions in his own best interest. Be aware that parental guidance at this age takes on new dimensions of facilitating discussion, rather than forcing control.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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