How to talk to your children about gender

How do you talk to your children about sex, gender identity, gender dysphoria, and transgenderism? More importantly, how do you do so in a way that is age appropriate? That is the goal of Brian Seagraves and Hunter Leavine’s short book, Gender: A Conversation Guide for Parents and Pastors (The Good Book Co., 2018). In this brief overview of the topic, they seek to provide parents, pastors, and anyone working with children and youth a foundation for engaging with these questions.

Setting a foundation for later

The book is built around two major sections: Foundations and Toolbox. The first section is divided into three parts divided by age: 0-7 years, 7-11 years, and 12 years and older. In each of these sections, Seagraves and Leavine offer address topics specific to that age. These questions are grounded in the scriptures and build upon the ones before them. For example, the concept of God as a good and personal Creator, who designs each part of creation with a purpose (taught in the first section), is the beginning of the next step in the middle-age range where topics of distinct differences between men and women are discussed. Because God has designed every part of creation with a purpose, God has a purpose for the differences between men and women. In this way, Seagraves and Leavine build upon each foundation to create a framework drawn from the known to address the unknown or difficult.

The second major section is that of the Toolbox. In the final chapter, the authors provide answers to some of the more “hot-button” issues surrounding the topic of gender identity: What about bathroom usage? Which pronouns should I use? How do I talk about this topic with others? These issues and some common objections to a Christian perspective on the issue are answered briefly and provide a helpful form for parents seeking to lead their children as they go out into the world. The answers are not all encompassing, and there are areas where Christians may disagree. However, the truth of God’s good, created order of male and female as described in the Scripture is not one of those places.

The most important part of the book is that it is not just concerned with the issue of transgenderism. As the authors point out, this is but one issue, among many, that are the result of sin’s effects in the world. This is why the first foundation does not explicitly address gender at all. Fundamental to all other issues is instilling a foundation of a Christian worldview for children. Yes, we should answer questions that children have as they arise. Yes, we should do so in age-appropriate ways. More important than whether they can describe a male-sex binary however is whether they can tell us that God is good and has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ and speaks to us through his word.

An ongoing conversation

In an age that is confusing, children need to know that the adults in their lives are aware of the questions. If parents and pastors are unwilling to talk about these topics because they feel unsure or awkward, the world will shape their children. Rather than cede the discipling of children to a world that is not grounded in the truth of Scripture, adults must start the conversations. Parents should address topics before the surrounding culture to ensure that their children receive a biblical perspective. As the authors make clear: either you disciple your child or the world will do it for you.  As a Christian parent or leader, it is crucial that you shape the young minds under you and provide them with the wisdom and truth of Scripture before they are sent out to a world that may find them disagreeable.

Yet, even then, they are to be taught that a person is not a problem to be solved, but someone to be loved. The friend who experiences gender dysphoria is not a “them” who should be shunned. They are an image-bearer of God and deserve our full respect and love. In this, Seagraves and Leavine again point us to the truth that no matter the outward difference, the root of all the brokenness in the world is the pervasive effect of sin. Your children’s friend may disagree with the framework you provide, but they should know that your child sees them as a valued person worthy of dignity and respect.

The book is framed as a conversation guide (thus, the subtitle). It ends with age-appropriate questions and discussion topics. What does this mean? That parents and those who work with children and youth are not going to have one single conversation. This will be an ongoing series of talks and moments. Parents should welcome this.

The role of this book is to not answer every question, but to give parents the tools to start the conversation. The process of discipleship is not a moment, but a lifetime of learning and growing. In the same way, children are to be taught continually when they are sitting in the house, walking, and even as they lie down to sleep (Deut. 11:18-21). Children should know that their parents are aware of the questions they have. Brian Seagraves and Hunter Leavine have given adults some tools to start the first of many conversations.