A reader at The Stream sent a question about how to teach her very young children about transgender-related issues. I wrote her this answer, which I think might be helpful to other parents of young children too. (I’ve adapted my answer slightly for use here.)
Thank you for the question! Kudos to you for thinking through this issue for the sake of your children. I’ve actually got an article related to your question, ready to be published soon at The Stream. It’s a brief introduction to my recently released Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens.
Prepare By Equipping Yourself
But your question isn’t about teens. Let me offer some suggestions for younger children if I may. (I’ve been asked about this often.) My strong advice is to prepare by equipping yourself with answers that you need, and that your kids are going to need as they grow up. For example:
- “What does the Bible say about marriage and morality? Where does it say it in the Bible, and how do we know we’re interpreting it correctly?”
- “Why would God say what He says about this? What if the Bible is just outdated and prejudiced and wrong? How can we be confident it’s really true and actually still good?”
- “We keep hearing things like Christians are haters, bigots, homophobic, on the wrong side of history… what’s the real truth about that?”
You may not need those answers today, and your kids won’t need you to pass along all that you learn — not yet, that is. They will in time, though, and sooner than you think. If you don’t know where you stand — and why you stand there — your kids ultimately won’t know where they stand, either. That kind of equipping is what I wrote Critical Conversations for, and it doesn’t just apply to parents of teens.
How (Not) To Bring Up the Topic
As for training and teaching very young children, I certainly wouldn’t suggest you introduce them to any questions or problems they don’t need to know about yet. But I would definitely monitor what they’re hearing, by asking questions like (for example):
- “What do you think this TV show we’re watching is saying about what it means to be married?”
- “Do any of your friends ever talk about what Christians think? What do they say about people who go to church?”
- “Do any of your friends ever give you the feeling they think it’s wrong to be a Christian?”
(Make sure you include social media among “friends,” if they’re into social media — though my advice would be to keep them off of screen-based living for as long as you possibly can. Kids need to know the difference between an actual friend and a “Facebook friend.”)
Generic and Neutral For As Long As Possible With Pre-teens
Those are very generic questions, for very young children. If they’re starting to pick up some wrong teaching, those kinds of questions will tell you how far you ought to go in responding with answers. If you’re equipped with the kind of knowledge I was talking about earlier, you’ll know where to take it from there.
I’d be as cautious as possible with young children. When our kids were very young they didn’t face these particular issues, but they did ask what adultery was, in the Ten Commandments. I just told them, “It would be adultery if I treated some other woman besides your mom as if she were my wife.” Hopefully you’ll be able to keep your conversations with your kids on a neutral level like that for a long time yet to come.
If They Go To Public School
Now if your kids go to public school, every few months or so starting in kindergarten I would also ask,
- “Do your teachers ever talk about what marriage means?”
- “Do they ever talk about what it really means to be a boy or to be a girl?”
Rarely, but sometimes, this question also matters. If it does, you certainly want to know about it!
- “Do your teachers ever teach your class anything that they say you shouldn’t mention to your mom or dad?”
It’s Coming At You Faster Than You Expect
As they grow older, or if they surprise you by being more “informed” than you want them to be, you can ask more pointed questions, and give more pointed answers. If they go to public school they’ll probably be exposed to a lot more than you expect a lot earlier than you expect. You’ll probably have to help them think through things you’ll wish you didn’t have to help them with.
Again, kudos to you: you’re already facing that as the reality that it is. I pray for more parents to think the way you’re thinking!
Grace and peace to you,
Senior Editor and Ministry Coordinator
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