Questions and Answers With Your Kids — In That Order

Questions and answers matter. They matter at younger ages every day.

My friend Bill and I were at the bookstore cafe enjoying coffee and conversation. He told me, “My son came home from school this week and told me has a gay classmate who likes him. He’s been calling him repeatedly on his cell phone. They’re in sixth grade.”

It starts way too early in kids’ lives, and it doesn’t get any easier as they move on into high school. My own two children (both in their 20s now) have had plenty of gay classmates, some of whom were close enough to be friends.

Bill has had training as a Christian counselor. He knew most parents are less well equipped. Questions like this are bound to come up, though.

It’s good if they do, actually. Young people are bombarded with messages of “equal love.” If they’re not asking out loud, you can be sure they’re wondering on the inside: Is gay marriage okay? Is my church wrong about this? They might even be asking themselves, Do my parents even understand the issues? They’ve never had a gay or lesbian friend like I do.

Count On It: They’re Asking the Questions

Actually, if they’re not asking you out loud, you can be sure they’re sorting out their opinions with their friends; and if their friends match national averages, more than three-quarters of them think gay is okay.

What’s a parent to do? The answer has to be (gulp) to start the conversation.

Well, that sounds scary. Don’t give up now! Sure, this takes you into a “perfect storm” of awkward parent-child conversation topics: sexuality, generational differences, and teens’ perennial sense that “mom and dad just don’t get it!” The easy thing would be to steer clear. But who do you want to be teaching your children what to believe about sexuality and morality? The kids who ride the school bus with them? Their favorite TV shows or music? Or you, yourself?

I don’t mean to make it sound more ominous than it is. This is reality. This is the way it is.

It Isn’t So Much Whether You Know the Answer…

Here’s the great news, though: “Getting it” is optional in the short run. Connecting with your teen or pre-teen is the first priority. You’d be surprised to know just how much kids pick up on parents’ values just by spending authentic time together. “My parents really, genuinely love me, and they believe such-and-so“ is more persuasive to kids than you might think.

It doesn’t erase the competition you’re up against, though. And there’s still the question of making safe passage into and through that perfect storm. I’ve found that the best way in is through good questions, for example,

  • Do you have any gay, lesbian, or transgender friends?
  • What’s it like for you when they talk about their relationships or their feelings?
  • Do your friends think of Christians as being anti-gay?
  • What do you sense they’re saying about your own views? Do they know what you think about it?
  • Do you know what you think about this issue?
  • Does it make you uncomfortable that our church preaches and teaches against homosexuality?

… It’s How You Treat the Questions

Be prepared for anything. You might be opening a completely unsuspected door to confusion, questions, doubts, and disagreements. This is the time to recall that unconditional love means loving them no matter what they say; and it’s better for them to have this conversation with you than with just about anyone else. (Your pastor or the kids’ youth pastor might be the exception.)

They’ll stay in it with you ask long as they’re sure it’s safe, which means you respect their questions and their doubts. You don’t shut them down or brush them aside. Remember: they’re getting bombarded by pro-gay and lesbian messages. They’ve got reason to wonder what the truth is.

After you’ve listened a good long while you can turn the flow in the other direction by asking, “Now, do you have any questions for me?” (They might have gotten to that long before you make the invitation.)

One night a while ago my daughter, Lisa, came practically storming into the den. She said, “Dad, I was just listening to a song that said, ‘Gentlemen, if you’re going to preach, for God’s sake preach with conviction!’ And guess what? The band that sings that song isn’t a Christian band. Why is it that non-Christian musicians can have stronger messages than Christian bands?

Honoring the Questions

To be fair, that wasn’t an accurate overall picture of reality. In some cases, though, it can be disturbingly true.

So we talked about it, and I had to admit that there were things about Christians in ministry, especially music ministry, that I’ve never understood, even though I’d spent ten years involved with touring music ministries. I was stumped.

That’s when I remembered an email I’d sent Lisa and her brother about a week earlier:

“I have an ice cream date scheduled for either or both of you if you can ask me a really hard question about the Bible, morality, faith, or anything like it that stumps me. It has to be a question that actually matters to you or a friend of yours. (I’ll count Facebook friends.) . . .

“Game on?”

The funny thing about it was that she didn’t realize she’d done it, until the next morning when I sent her an e-mail titled, “I owe you an ice cream.”

We went out and talked about her question. We came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really have a settled answer. Some questions do, though.

But Then Yes, It Still Matters What You Teach

The Bible — and common human experience, too — gives us great insight into how people thrive best. Part of that insight is that families do best when they’re headed by a mom and dad who are committed to one another in marriage and love one another. Individuals do best when they keep their acts of physical intimacy sacred within that space called marriage — which has always been, and in God’s eyes, still is, for a man and a woman.

In other words, answers matter. A lot. But relationship matters a lot, too, and you can build  your relationship with your teen by connecting with him or her on their questions. Then you can scope out the answers together, too.

Questions and answers can come in exactly that order: questions first, answers later.

 

Image source: Libby Levi at Flickr.com

Answering Challenge 28: “It’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of gender identity.”

Part Three of Critical Conversations answers 27 different challenges people raise, trying to show that Christianity’s position on marriage and morality is wrong. 

Here’s number 28.

The Challenge:

“Transgendered people should have access to the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, because it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on their gender identity.”

The truth your teen or preteen needs to know

The idea, “discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” is so mixed up, it’s impossible to pass a law or set a policy to prevent it that doesn’t actually cause it. The rule itself is so broken, there’s no other answer but to discard the rule.

Digging Deeper

Parents, no matter how obvious the answer to this challenge might seem to you, for your children it might not be so clear after all. The culture they’re immersed in — not including any solid Christian training you’ve made available for them at home, church, or school — has really primed them to reject discrimination everywhere. So it isn’t enough just to tell, you need to explain.

But don’t worry. Like almost everything else covered in Part Three of Critical Conversations, this explanation is easy. There’s more than one approach you can take, and I’ll share more tomorrow. First let’s take a look at how impossible the whole idea is to begin with.

Consider this dialogue:

A. I say it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on their gender identity. The law should let transgendered people use whatever bathroom or changing room they think fits who they are.

B. I’m not transgendered. Should the law let me use whichever facility I want?

A. Why would you want to do that?

B. I don’t. I’m just asking what the law should let someone do, if they wanted to do it.

A. That doesn’t sound right. Then the law would just let men use women’s rooms, even if they didn’t identify as women. That’s not what these equal access laws are for. It could get creepy. 

B. So whether someone has the right to use the other facilities depends on  their gender identity, right?

A. Right.

B. But I thought you said that was wrong.

A. Wrong? What do you mean, wrong?

B. It’s giving people a right or taking it away depending on their gender identity. That’s discriminating on the basis of gender identity. You said that was wrong. 

Now person A is in a pickle, and there’s no way out of it. If we write a law to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity, that law automatically discriminates on the basis of gender identity. It causes exactly the same thing it was intended to prevent! There’s no way around it. The only answer is to admit there’s something seriously wrong  with the whole idea to start with.

Discrimination isn’t always wrong, after all. (There’s a topic explaining that in Part Three of the book.) When it comes to bathrooms and locker rooms, you can’t avoid it. Consider the options:

  1. You set the rules according to biological sex.
  2. You set the rules according to gender identity.
  3. You eliminate all the rules.
  4. You build one-person bathrooms for everyone everywhere.

The first one discriminates based on biology. The second one discriminates according to gender identity, as we just saw. The third one discriminates against everyone who wants bathrooms and locker rooms to be places for modesty and privacy. The fourth one discriminates against everyone who wants to avoid spending money and messing with property so foolishly!

So when people set laws and policies, they have to choose as wisely as they can, but they’re never going to be able do it without discriminating one way or another. It’s just a fact of life.

Tips for Talking With Your Teen (or Preteen)

Your child may never have faced a pickle like this dialogue before, where the problem has no answer. They might think you’re pulling a logical trick, and that it’s up to them to work it out. Their friends might think the same thing when your kids try to explain it to them.

An analogy from school might help them understand what’s going on:

Suppose your PE teacher said you had to shoot twenty baskets in thirty tries to get a good grade — but you had to do it with a ball so big it couldn’t go through the hoop. Could you do it? No one could, not even the best player in the world. Or suppose your math teacher said that in order to pass, you had to prove that 2 times 2 equals 22. Could you do it? No one could, not even the world’s best math expert. Why not? Because the rules were set up to be impossible from the beginning.

The solution isn’t to try harder at making the shots or running the math problem. It’s recognizing there’s something wrong with the rules. They’re impossible.  If anyone has any sense they’ll toss them out.

In the same way, if you start with the rule, “Don’t discriminate based on gender identity,” you’ll always end up with an answer that discriminates based on gender identity. You can’t avoid it. So you do the same thing: you recognize the rule is an impossible one. There’s something wrong with the rule. If you have good sense, you’ll toss it out.

Once they’ve become comfortable with that idea, you could role-play the dialogue with your child for practice, letting him or her be person A the first time, and then switching so you’re person A after that.