Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guest Post: Advice Sought

I received the following as an email this morning. I've made one short reply, and now have permission to post this for your response. Please give any support/thought you can.

In subsequent emails, the writer asked for a list of appropriate reading materials she could get for the young woman.

Thank you from her and me!

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Hello,
I've been reading your blog for quite a while. I'm a foster mom and had something happen this past weekend that I need some advice on how to handle.

My husband and I have been fostering a teenage girl for the past 1-1/2 years. She has been in and out of residential a couple of times during that time because of some pretty severe behavior issues but we are currently having her home on weekends and working toward bringing her back home soon. K is 17 years old but emotionally much younger. She has suffered severe neglect during her childhood and has severe abandonment issues. She is parentified, having had to care for three younger siblings over the course of a couple of years while mom was drinking. At one time before she was in our care, she disclosed being sexually abused but then retracted stating she said it for revenge purposes. Recently she said she thought it was real for a long time but now thinks it was just a dream.

This past weekend, she was home, using our computer and my husband found that she had searched on YouTube for "girls kissing and grinding." He asked her about it and she said one of the other girls in residential had told her to look it up. He simply told her it was not appropriate to use our computers to look for sexually explicit videos. About 5 minutes later she came to us and told us that she wanted to explain. She said she has been confused about her sexuality but she thinks maybe it is because she has been so confined and has lived with so many other girls for so long. She admitted to "experimenting" and then quickly added that she was "over it now." She was obviously scared and teary eyed when telling us all of this and admitted being afraid we would hate her. We assured her that we loved her no matter what but that she wasn't allowed to search out sexually explicit material on the computer. She came to me alone later and again said she was worried what we thought about her. I assured her that I was more concerned about her mis-use of the computer than I was about her sexuality. We talked at length about her confusion and I encouraged her to talk to her therapist about it but she was very hesitant to do that. She said she thinks it is just something that happens to girls when they are so confined with other girls. She suggested that a couple of the girls she lives with have made sexual advances toward her and she went along with it. I tried to validate her feelings and assured her I would be supportive of her either way. But this is new territory for me and I really wasn't sure what to say. There were tears and hugs and then it was over. It wasn't brought up again the rest of the weekend.

We have never suspected K of being lesbian. She has always shown an interest in boys. So this was a shock to us. We feel like we handled it pretty good. I hope. My question is where to go from here. Should I let her therapist or caseworker know what she told us? Should the residential staff know what's going on with the girls? Or should I leave it up to K to tell? Something about just leaving it up to her doesn't feel right because I don't really think she'll tell anyone else.

Thank you for any suggestions you can give me. I appreciate your blog and how open you are about sharing all the emotional ups and downs in foster parenting. Now I appreciate you even more because I really need support in handling this new little twist in our fostering experience!

8 comments:

  1. I think it's important to make it clear to her that there is no need whatsoever to label her sexuality at this point. Esp. as you say she is emotionally younger than 17. It's more than okay for her not to be sure, to continue to experiment--in safe ways (which is where the bulk of you conversation probably ought to go) and decide later--or never what to call it.
    She doesn't have to say she's a lesbian after a sexual experience with a girl, but neither does she have to dismiss that experience as temporary in order to be okay.

    In short, it's okay--esp. at her developmental stage, not to be sure, or to be open to more than one possibility.

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  2. Old school response here...I told my teen that she wasn't gay, people were either born gay or they weren't and she wasn't. I told her that she was probably lonely and looking for an available connection at the time, and again, that did not make her gay. I also told her that it's not wrong to say to the other girl, sorry, I like boys. It almost sounds like she was pressured and that would fall under a type of rape rather than experimentation. On the other hand, I have also had 1 girl use stories like that to manipulate for what ever her goal was at the time. Could be I need attention, could be worry about me, could be that's not a safe place for me...it's always so hard to tell sometimes.
    Personally I would start w/ the caseworker and therapist. Since they (and you) are mandated reporters that will CYA for you and let them decide where to go from there leaving you to support her.
    Good luck.

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  3. Residential staff knows, trust me. My daughter came home from residential Sept. 09 after almost a year there. She's had the same experience about "experimenting" and been "grounded" by staff for it. Staff knows. Her issue was needing intimacy from anyone since boys weren't as readily available. Relationships are a HUGE issue for her. Perhaps staff can give you some more info on what has been happening. How much do they communicate with you? I knew almost immediately from staff and my daughter also told me.

    I do agree that her therapist is a good place to start. I would ask her first though. Keep the trust if possible.

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  4. It would be a very unusual 17 year old who never looked at porn on the internet.

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  5. I really like what LilySea said.

    I also wanted to make the point that K showing an interest in boys doesn't really predict much about whether she'll be interested in girls (too).

    I think if you're concerned that girls are being pressured by other girls where they're living, you should definitely discuss it with the staff or a caseworker, and tell K ahead of time that you feel they need to know in order to keep it a safe place.

    But if it's just about K and her process of figuring things out, I think she should get to shape her relationship with her therapist and how much she wants to disclose when.

    Just the opinion of a stranger on the internet, but I think you handled it pretty good, too. :)

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  6. I think you've gotten some good advice -- especially the piece about saying it's okay to experiment and to try things out and it's not necessary to label oneself now (or ever).

    I also want to add a perspective as a bi woman. There is a LOT of pressure in our society to be at the ends of the continuum. People think that if they enjoyed the one experience then it must mean they are gay/straight. But, the reality of human sexuality is much broader than that. I used to hear people quoting the 10% statistic a lot, but, then a friend of mine sent me to read the actual studies that looked into prevalence. Did you know that they show that 40% of women are somewhere on the spectrum that would qualify as bi? Many bi women end up being classified by society by their long-term partners and they end up invisibly identified as "lesbian" or "straight" despite the fact that they actual could have been happy in a relationship with a person of the other gender.

    I agree that it sounds like you need to have a bunch of conversations about safety in relationships and sexual experience. But, I think it's also a good idea to discuss the idea that every experience can be valid in its own right (assuming it is of her choosing) and that one experience doesn't have to be defining.

    Good luck!

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  7. Thanks from the guest poster! I got an email this morning from the writer of this post. She is very grateful for your helpful comments and support. She has found some reading material for K and she thinks they will be okay.

    I asked her to write a follow-up post later to let us know how it all works out. She said she would.

    Thank you all!

    Oh, if you still have things to say, please post them here. I suspect she will continue to read the comments.

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  8. http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%253A%252F%252Ffosteringteengirls.blogspot.com%252F2010%252F01%252Fviolence-in-teen-age-girls.html%253Fspref%253Dfb&h=a24493fbd678c3288211b3db48a81968&ref=mf
    We are foster parents to teenage girls and we have these same issues. Right now it is very accepting to be touching and kissing on other girls. I like the part about not having to label herself. Right now I have a little girl that dresses and acts, she even cuts her hair like a boy. I have had to come to the place where we dont allow her to have her girlfriends over. I have walked in on to my uncomfortable situations. I hate that she is only 16 but I have to set my limits. I am starting a blog on my times as a foster parent.

    ReplyDelete

Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.