Editorial: A modern lesson: Talk to your kids about gender diversity

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted10/22/2018 6:04 PM
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  • Amanda Littauer, acting director of the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality at Northern Illinois University, says parents should talk to their young children about gender diversity. Expert groups ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Focus on the Family agree.

    Amanda Littauer, acting director of the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality at Northern Illinois University, says parents should talk to their young children about gender diversity. Expert groups ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Focus on the Family agree. Photo courtesy of Northern Illinois University

Your parents and grandparents may have stressed over talking about the "birds and the bees." Or maybe it was how to start a conversation about smoking cigarettes or using drugs and alcohol. They probably never dreamed they would have to talk to their children about gender diversity. But you do -- plan to talk to your kids about why some people live a gender identity different from their anatomical sex.

Experts say parents should address the topic when kids are young, definitely by the age of 8.

Many might think that's too young, but experts say kids can handle it.

"We underestimate the capacity of children to be able to understand and use language that reflects gender diversity and the bodies people have," Northern Illinois University's Amanda Littauer told our Susan Sarkauskas. Littauer is the acting director for NIU's Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality.

Some age-appropriate knowledge can prepare a child to handle this delicate topic with poise and respect.

The issue surfaced recently in Batavia after the school district allowed a student who is biologically male but identifies as a female to begin using restrooms and a locker room for girls at Rotolo Middle School. One mother said her daughter didn't know anything about transgender people, because the family had not discussed it yet in their home.

Some three years ago, gender diversity made headlines in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 when a transgender student filed a federal discrimination complaint over locker room access.

The point is your children are likely to know or meet, or see people on TV who openly live with a gender identity that's different from their anatomical sex, making "the talk" timely and relevant. As one expert put it: "Gender complexity and diversity is a part of everyday experience."

Groups ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Planned Parenthood to the conservative Focus on the Family urge parents not to wait until children are adolescents to discuss gender diversity. Experts say children's sense of gender is fluid when they are young and they put gender labels on themselves and others around the age of 2 to 3.

That means you'll have to learn about terms such as gender identity and transgender, and figure out how to talk to your children in a way they'll understand.

Take heart, you don't have to wade into such a sensitive topic unprepared. There are plenty of materials available to help.

Embrace this as a teaching moment where the lesson is that people may have different views but everyone should be treated with love and respect.

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