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Recognizing and Treating Same-Sex Attractions in Children

11/17/2003 - 6:00 AM PST

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Father John Harvey Gives Tips for Parents

NEW YORK, NOV. 16, 2003 (Zenit) - Parents who think their children may have same-sex attractions can look for specific signs and seek effective psychological and spiritual treatment for their kids, says an expert in the field.

Father John Harvey, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, is founder of Courage, a Catholic apostolate for adults with same-sex attractions, and is co-editor of "Same-Sex Attraction: A Parent's Guide" Ignatius).

He shares what are the main factors that may contribute to same-sex attractions in children and what parents can do to help their child.

Q: Could you briefly explain what are the roots of same-sex attractions?

Father Harvey: There are many roots of same-sex attractions. From many years of research and pastoral practice I believe that there are four principal factors, which, individually or collectively, contribute to same-sex attractions.

One is the inability of the child to identify with the gender of the same-sex parent. This occurs when the same-sex parent does not make himself or herself psychologically accessible to the child, and in this context child includes adolescents.

In her book "Psychogenesis and the Early Development of Gender Identity," Elizabeth Moberly explains the need of the child to identify with the same-sex parent. By identifying with his father, a little boy begins the process of achieving masculinity; by identifying with her mother, a little girl begins a similar process toward femininity.

The second factor is an overweening relationship with the opposite-sex parent. For example, a mother of a large family, whose husband was working several jobs, formed an excessively close relationship with her youngest son and confided in him her own dissatisfaction with her husband. She really blocked her son's access to his father. It must be kept in mind that parents are usually unaware of the harm that they do to the child.

The third aspect is a failure to identify with members of one's own sex during childhood and adolescence. A son who has not identified with his father, or even older brothers, will lack confidence in his relationships with other boys in their games. He will tend to spend time with girls as his companions. He tends to avoid team sports games. During adolescence he find himself yearning to touch other youth, about whom he has erotic fantasies.

Another example is a girl who perceives her mother as weak, because she always gave into her domineering father. The girl tells herself that she is not going to be weak like her mother -- she'll be like her father. She becomes aggressive like him and later feels physically attracted to women.

The fourth contributing factor is emotional and sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence. An example of emotional abuse would be a father who gives special attention to several older sons who excel in team sports, while neglecting the youngest son who does not engage in sports. An example of sexual abuse would be sexual seduction of an adolescent by an adult.

Girls can be emotionally abused in many ways. Some girls are treated as a boy, spending little time with girls and much time with boys in sporting events; other girls are emotionally neglected by the father -- who is often alcoholic -- and witness the father mistreating the mother.

Many girls, in grade school or high school, have suffered sexual abuse, and the trauma turns them away from the male sex. Physical sexual abuse can lead to same-sex attractions in youth.

Q: How can parents recognize if their child is sexually attracted to others of the same sex, or may be vulnerable to developing such attractions?

Father Harvey: It is not easy to recognize signs in a child indicating future same-sex attractions. I shall give some signs for each sex.

Signs for a boy include a little boy who likes to dress up in girls' clothes -- sometimes this began with the mother dressing him like a little girl.

Other signs are if one son in a family is different from his brothers; if a boy is not involved in sports; if he is a loner who spends endless hours on the Internet; if, as an adolescent, he spends much time with one or two other boys who are also loners; if most of his close friends are girls; if he has feminine mannerisms; if he has a distant relationship with his father; and if he tends to prefer his sisters to his brothers. Very often a child with same-sex attractions is the youngest in a family.

It is more difficult to recognize signs of same-sex attractions in girls because the signs are not really visible during childhood. Tomboys often grow up very feminine. Perhaps during adolescence the parents may notice that their daughter does not show interest in being with young men, but, ...

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