Q: My husband and I have raised five amazing children in a happy home where we’ve constantly encouraged and praised them. Last summer, our youngest, 14, started behaving oddly — isolating himself, saying he relates better to animals and that humans are destroying the earth.
Lately, he’s been dressing up in a furry costume, even publicly. I warned him that if he is seen by schoolmates it might cause bullying. He says he doesn’t care — this is who he is.
My husband and I have no clue how to approach this behaviour. We know nothing about “furries.” Our smart and talented son is perfect in every other aspect.
A: Approach this issue through his intelligence and interests. Ask him to help you understand the “furry” concept and get informed yourself. There’s information available on the Internet — e.g. a “furry” is a person with an interest in anthropomorphism (ascribing human characteristics to animals). This interest can range from an innocuous hobby of furry fandom and fanzines to a fetish.
Your son is grappling with the gap between idealism and reality, which some young people feel acutely. Be on his side, encouraging his desire to improve the world rather than being scared or thinking he’s weird.
You and your husband should talk to a therapist who is experienced in working with highly sensitive teens. It doesn’t mean your son is unbalanced. I’m suggesting you get guidance, professionally, about how to deal with the direction he’s taken.
Also, stay closely supportive so that he doesn’t feel the need to rebel in other areas, like school. And monitor his Internet contacts to make sure he isn’t being influenced toward anything harmful.