How To Talk To Kids About Sexual Orientation + Gender Identity
Amy Cody (Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts) has been incredibly generous in sharing her educational expertise over the last few months (be sure to read her articles on how to talk to kids/teens about sex and relationships, pornography, and consensual sex) and I'm thrilled that she was receptive to sharing her wisdom about how to talk to kids about sexual orientation and gender identity.
I've been thinking about these issues so much -- not so much because of media spectacle, but because I've seen parent friends navigate their kids' paths, and also in my ongoing conversations with Laurel and Violet about differences and acceptance. Thank you again, Amy, for helping us all have important conversations with our kids!
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Tips from Amy Cody, on how to talk to kids about sexual orientation + gender identity:
1. Embrace your role as the primary educator. When it comes to educating kids about sexuality education, embrace your role as primary educator in an ongoing conversation. Starting early and talking often is great, however, remember, it is never too late to begin the dialog! This post on how to educate kids about sex and relationships offers 10 tips to get you started.
2. Know the terms and the differences. When talking about sexual orientation and gender identity, many different terms may be used. These definitions can help make conversations with our children more understandable.
- Sexual orientation refers to a person's physical, emotional, and romantic attraction to individuals of the same and/or opposite gender. Heterosexual (or straight) refers to a person who is attracted to and/or falls in love with someone of the other gender. Homosexual (or gay or lesbian) refers to a person who is attracted to and/or falls in love with someone of the same gender. Bisexual refers to a person who is attracted to and/or falls in love with someone of either gender. Questioning refers to a person who is unsure of or exploring their sexual orientation. Some people know from a young age that they are attracted to people of the same or opposite gender. For others, it can be an evolving process.
- Gender identity is a person's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl). Transgender describes a person whose internal feelings of being male or female differ from the sexual anatomy they were born with. Some people ask, "Isn't transgender just like being gay?" No. Transgender describes a person's internal sense of gender identity while gay is a term describing a person's sexual orientation, in other words, their feelings of physical, emotional, and romantic attraction toward other people. Transgender people have some issues in common with gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities like: "coming out" (when a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person tells another person her/his sexual orientation or gender identity), access to non-judgmental health care, self-esteem, and violence. However, gender identity isnot the same as sexual orientation.
3. Know the facts vs. the myths. No one knows for certain why people have different sexual orientations. There are many theories including genetics, prenatal and socio-cultural influences, and psychosocial factors, as well as a combination of all of these. But we do know that sexual orientation is not something that is chosen. Nor is it something that can be changed by medicine or therapy.
4. Think about what messages you want to share. Before talking with your children, it's helpful to consider the messages you want to share. You might want to share the following using clear, age-appropriate language:
- Every culture and society has people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, heterosexual, and transgender.
- People's beliefs about sexual orientation are based on their religious, cultural, and family values.
- Some people are afraid to share that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, or transgender because they fear they will be mistreated or misunderstood.
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, and transgender people can adopt children or have their own children.
- People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, or transgender engage in many of the same sexual behaviors as heterosexual people.
- There are young people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the same gender, but do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, transgender, and heterosexual people can establish lifelong committed relationships.
- All people deserve respect and kindness, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise, Amy! If you want further quick and easy ideas for talking with your child about sexuality topics, sign up for The Parent Buzz, an e-newsletter that features current, age-appropriate, helpful strategies and resources for talking with kids about sex and sexuality topics.
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