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Parent conversations: What should Christian parents teach their children about gender?

I believe that Christian parents have a pivotal role to play in a world that is so confused by gender. Obviously this role starts at home with our own children, but that can be a scary thought. What exactly should we be teaching children about gender? What is a God-pleasing way of approaching this topic?

— Nicole Balza


Parenting has always been a daunting and ominous task. One area in which parenting in today’s times seems to be more confusing on a daily basis is in the area of gender. Certainly, there always have been discussions and guidance from family and parenting experts on specific skills and parenting interventions for raising boys and girls. However, with the advancing agenda of transgender and the broader LGBTQ communities, the concept of gender-neutral parenting has come to the forefront, suggesting a new paradigm on how to raise children free from gender labels.

But I will not discuss much about gender-neutral parenting as a specific technique primarily because the concept and its ideological foundations are simply not coming from a biblical perspective. I will assume that the idea of labeling a newborn infant’s gender as X on the birth certificate is something that Christian families are not very interested in. Yet many Christian parents still are looking for direction about how to raise their children with masculine or feminine distinctions that honor the biblical integrity of God’s design for humanity.

The increased rates of diagnosed gender dysphoria in youth and young adults (some medical sources suggest that the rates have increased by over 4,000 percent in the last decade) suggest that there certainly is wisdom in considering how God-fearing parents should raise their children within a gender-fluid world.

My first encouragement is that parents should consider and study biblically prescribed distinctions for male and female roles. Studying biblical roles for males and females for the purpose of guiding healthy gender-sensitive parenting is a valuable starting point. Genesis 1:27 provides a binary template that is not divisive but a model that is complementary and loving.

Many gender expressions are not sourced directly from Scripture. Take for example, the idea that boys must be physically and emotionally tough while playing sports or shooting guns or conversely that girls must be emotionally calm and reserved while playing with dolls and makeup. Those categories of play and description of temperament appear to be socially constructed gender ideas that are not fully and definitively grounded in Scripture. However, the idea that men should assume a Christlike, selfless leadership role in Christian homes and that women submit to their husbands are in fact matters that are prescribed according to gender roles within Scripture. These depictions of the complementary nature and essence of male and female roles should be honored in our parenting, and we as parents should invite and welcome our children in the exploration of those roles.

Second, parents should not become overwhelmed if their children are engaging in gender-fluid experimental behaviors. Christian parents can become overly sensitive to the idea that their children are embracing a behavior or tendency that they believe is projecting toward a path of gender confusion.

Gender fluidity, defined as a rejection of stereotypical gender norms, has certainly become a popular social trend for many young children and adolescents. So many children explore and experiment with gender identities. It is not in and of itself something to be concerned about if your boy wants to play with a Barbie or your girl wants all of her time to be in sports. One of the most important factors in raising healthy children who are confident in their gendered bodies is that they feel confident in their worth in their relationship with their parents. Parents also want to help their children develop a healthy positive relationship with their heavenly Father who has created them and redeemed them. If parents become overwhelmed with concerns about gender pathways and inadvertently project anxiety, the child might internalize rejection. This rejection can be far more damaging to healthy gender congruent development.

Gender parenting that honors the integrity of God’s original design does not include promoting hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine traits that are not grounded in Scripture. Reinforcing unhealthy stereotypically male and female concepts will only make a child’s development more challenging.

May God bless and protect parents and this generation of children as we cultivate gender identity that bears out the image of God.

Joshua Mears

Our family of four was just over halfway done with our 4.5-mile round-trip hike in the Grand Tetons. It was a stunning yet strenuous journey around Jenny Lake. As we trekked along on the last leg of the hike, a family was headed toward us. Not even two miles in, their four-year-old was over it already.

“I don’t wanna walk! I’m tired!” the boy complained.

Immediately his frustrated father replied, “You’re a man, Johnny! Be a man!”

With quivering lips and tearful voice, Johnny exclaimed, “But I don’t want to be a man!”

Classic! Our family laughed about the hilarious exchange for the rest of the hike and ever since.

Though a simple and silly moment, there’s a lot packed into those words from Johnny’s father. What exactly was he teaching his son? What was he trying to teach Johnny about being a man and how to act like one? And if he was actively teaching something about men, was he subtly teaching something about women? Was the father right and accurate in what he was teaching? What should we teach children about gender?

On the one hand, we ought to proceed with caution. The nitty gritty of the sexes and sexuality should be taught to our children with diligence and care. How many details parents share with each child will certainly vary based on age and maturity. We will want to teach God’s beautiful design of the two sexes and sexuality while at the same time carefully consider what is age-appropriate content.

On the other hand, we must be realistic about the world in which we live. In an over-sexualized culture, it is impossible and imprudent to avoid these conversations. Children now regularly see reality TV shows with transgender or homosexual contestants. Magazine covers at the store, commercials on TV, and half-time shows of the Super Bowl are littered with provocative imagery and messages. Examples are everywhere, so suffice it to say this—if we don’t teach about the sexes and sexuality, the world certainly will.

So what should we teach? Here are three suggestions:

First, teach your children early and often Psalm 139:14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” It is good to teach that God stitched us together in our mother’s womb with love and care. How God made us is neither a mistake nor an accident. If you are male or female, that’s the biological sex God wanted you to be, and each is wonderfully awesome.

Second, teach your children what it means to be a man or a woman. I’m not talking about cultural norms here. No, let’s teach our children what it really means to be a man or a woman. I’m talking Ephesians 5 type stuff. Let’s teach boys to become men who are Christlike servant leaders who gladly humble themselves in selfless love and respect for others. Let’s teach girls to become women who show humble love and respect to men as they live with the beautiful grace, dignity, and strength God has given them. Let’s teach our children that God designed males and females to be very different so that they could be complementary partners.

Finally, teach your children to love like our Savior, who looked at crowds of lost people and had compassion on them (Mark 6:34). Many in this world are lost. Some are lost and confused with gender dysphoria. Some are lost and confused regarding their sexuality. Others are lost in other sins. How critical it is for us to teach our children—with our words and by our examples—to look at others with the love and compassion of Christ!

Phil Huebner 

 

Authors: Multiple authors
Volume 108, Number 7
Issue: July 2021

Nicole Balza
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Phil Huebner
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    Joshua Mears
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