Parenting in the age of sexual flexibility, plasticity & abuse

Parents , listen up! I’m  here to save you utter humiliation and possible harm to your children. . There is no way in hell that you are  right now  well enough prepared to  raise  a  sexually healthy child.

A few short years ago, the internet was the boogeyman in every parents life . You spent hours listening to “experts’ quelling your fears about the dangers to your child’s use of technology.  You attended school talks on cyber bullying, invested in nanny blocking systems, and spent hours worrying about your child’s exposure to porn. You have done well , parents! You stretched yourself into discomfort and have survived.

Just as you were relaxing into safety , thinking “I got this – I have my tech rules in place . I know at what age to allow my child to have an android mobile device, I know how many hours a day he/she/they should be online”, Ive deleted PornHub from my devices”..   you are smacked with a reality check . By your child. Your woke  5 year old child who one day announces that he is actually a girl and from now on wants to wear dresses to school. He saw this in a book at school and decided he really would be more comfortable this way.

And you thought porn was scary .. a walk in the park, I’d say, compared to the incredibly exciting  open spaces our children are currently occupying in their sexuality and relationships. I mean , you can explain to kids that porn is just acting , that it is adult only entertainment , and provide them with a few alternative  images of healthy adult sexual play and intimacy and love and affection . But how do you deal with the real issues of your child’s very personal  sexuality, namely their gender, sexual orientation,  conundrums around love and abuse.

Your  child has been online long enough to know that he/she/they does not live in a binary world. Rather  in a world filled with  sexual and relationship possibilities and choices that will make your hair stand on end. Your child lives in a rights based world, and  knows that they have sexual health rights , including the right to access services such as abortions, contraception, emergency contraception ,HIV/AIDS/STI screening – from age 12, without needing to get your permission  They know  diversity is not just about respecting different  races and cultures but  also diverse forms of gender identity, sexual orientation , families, and intimacy structures.

Tell me how you would respond if your child declared:

  • Im gay
  • Im bisexual
  • Im heterosexual
  • I want a child but no husband /wife
  • I want to keep my penis and I want to grow breasts
  • I am in love with my half brother
  • I want to be a webcam sex worker
  • No,he’s not my boyfriend- he’s my friend with benefits.
  • Please refer to me as “they”
  • We’ve decided to adopt rather than have our own child
  • My name is Karl not Carol
  • My mother has been sexually abusing me since I was 12 years old.

Just how would you rate yourself as a parent  with respect to the amount of tolerant teaching you have done with your own children?

  • Have you had a sufficient number of discussions and conversations with your child about homosexuality and transgenderism?
  • Have you shared with your child positive attitudes and values towards gays, lesbians, and people who are transgender?
  • Have you sent messages to your child that one needs to be tolerant and accepting or have your messages been more negative?
  • Or have you just been silent on the whole subject?
  • And at what age did you start your conversations? Did you begin early? Say at age 5 or 6? Or did you wait until much later? Say 14 or 15 and beyond? Or again, have you not even started as yet?
  • Have you exposed them to different forms of loving and the difference between healthy love and abuse?

Guide  to  Sexual Health Parenting : 

  1. Let’s get terminology correct:

Transgender: a general term used to describe someone whose gender expression /identity are different than the sex they were assigned at birth

Gender non conforming : when a person’s gender expression doesn’t fit inside traditional male or female categories (binary) these labels can includes someone who identifies as both male and female, neither male nor female, or some other gender altogether . Its not the same as being transgender and should only be used if someone self identifies as gender non conforming or non binary.

2. Consider your own values : Maybe you want your child to feel free to express themselves however they want. Maybe you want them to feel they can accomplish anything, no matter what their gender. Maybe you want them to grow up to appreciate the contributions people of all genders make in their lives and in the world. Maybe you want to use the word “strong” “proud” “smart” with your girl children and  your boy children, rather than stereotypical  feminine/masculine language.

#LoveHack. Be thoughtful about your choices when it comes to books, toys, entertainment, clothes, decorations, and other things you surround your  children from birth onwards. 

How to talk about different types of families.

Your child may notice another child on the playground or in their preschool who has a different kind of family than them — a family with a different number of parents, or with grandparents raising kids, or with two moms or two dads, or any number of other situations. Be sure to normalise this by bring this into your  discussions. Notice it , speak to it. Expose them to books that mirror family diversity. I like these Books a lot. They teach that the common thread of families is “love” .

How to talk about gender roles and stereotypes?

When you pick a new toy or book, or sign your child up for a new activity, ask yourself if you  are  reinforcing gender stereotypes: girls wear pink and boys blue; boys sport, girls dance. Be sure to avoid  messages about boys and girls such as  :” when you grow up you will marry a nice boy and live happily ever after. ”  These books help children  deconstruct gender stereotypes. Through these books they can explore characters who, perhaps like them, don’t fit into the mould of “girl” or “boy.”

How do I know if my child is transgender or gender nonconforming?

I like the words “gender expansive” or “gender creative”. These words, whilst not undermining the right of gender nonconforming people  to be loud and proud of their identity,  are so positive  and make me smile.

The best way to know what your child’s gender identity is, is to ask . Ask him/her/they  if they’re a boy or a girl, and how they know that to be true. If they state i their own words that they are the opposite sex , give them the power to wear what they want, have the haircut they want, and even use a name that reflects their gender. This will make them   feel safe, especially once they start going to school Trying to steer your child toward a more typical gender expression if that’s not their instinct does more harm than good. Being told that it’s bad for boys to play with dolls or do ballet, for example, can make your child feel ashamed and rejected.

.How to teach your child about healthy relationships and love

  • First, ask your child what they would  do for friendship. After all friendship is their first experience of an intimate relationship ousted the family.  What’s a ‘friend deal-breaker’? What might someone say or do that would make you realize they’re not actually your friend? Second, pay attention to your own observations of your child’s friendships. Do you have questions or opinions about the way your child is treated?  And third, have empathy for your child. Its confusing .
  • Set your own healthy relationship  boundaries:for example, name-calling is not an option. It’s the gateway drug to abuse. The insidious nature of abuse is the gradual escalation from criticism to insults to fists. Watch out for bruises, marks, isolating behaviour as red flags to your child being in an abusive relationship.
  •  I like these questions: Ask your child:  ‘Do you feel safe, happy, judged, shame? Is this person building you up or encouraging you? Or are they showing you that you’re not living up to their expectations?’

How to help my child who has been sexually abused by a family member/neighbour 

There is no “right” reaction to hearing that your child has been abused. You may experience a wide range of reactions and feelings that may impact different aspects of your life.: anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, shock..

First manage your feelings, so you can focus on creating a safe environment for your child that is free from harm, judgment, and blame. It is imperative that when your child discloses to you, you continue to repeat the following messages through both your words and your actions:

  • I love you.
  • What happened is not your fault.
  • I will do everything I can to keep you safe.
  • It is a huge responsibility to manage your child through sexual abuse allegations.  As a great overall guide to parents on how to protect their children – from each other, grandparents, friendly neighbours and child minders, I recommend this Sex education book    

How to understand the fluidity of sexual orientation. 

Foster an atmosphere of acceptance in our home.Teach celebrating and leveraging differences, being open, and practicing kindness and advocacy as basic human values. . Practice what you preach so watch your language, commentary and nuances.

Give this book to your teen. A few healthy messages: ” it is very important to respect people who are gay/queer”. “There are people who disapprove of persons that are gay and lesbian and sometimes they will actually try and hurt themI think that is just so terrible and wrong”. “You know, just like a man and woman can have children so can gay men and lesbian women”. “While men and women can marry each other in South Africa,  there are many countries  that do not allow gay men and lesbian women to marry. I think it’s only right that homosexuals be allowed to marry”.

And then , folks just as you thought it was safe to go back inside the bubble of your new normal, , be prepared to have your gay child turn straight on you! After all we are celebrating the fluidity and plasticity of their sexuality.

In summary, be fully prepared for the unexpected from your child.  Today all you need to raise a sexually healthy child is a great deal of updated  education , self reflection , redefining of your values, tolerance and curiosity

To learn about how to raise a sexually healthy child, contact me.