The following is a short extract from my new book BETWEEN – the ultimate guide to raising children from 8 to 13 years:
1.Check your own Biases
Most of us were raised in a heteronormative world, rife with homophobia and transphobia. Those in the UK who attended school between 1988 and 2003 would have been affected by Margaret Thatcher’s government’s Section 28. This was a clause prohibiting councils and, most importantly, schools from so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, with Thatcher famously saying: ‘Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life.’ This meant that sex education and related support in schools and from social-care services legally had to avoid all LGBTQ+ issues, resulting in widespread bullying and homophobia. The law was abolished in 2000 in Scotland and in 2003 in England and Wales, but those who grew up in the Section 28 era, could be – and were – affected, and it is very possible that you have some conscious or unconscious biases because of it. As with all aspects of parenting, you must confront these beliefs and how they may affect your child and your relationship with them.
2. Don’t Make Any Assumptions or Label Their Feelings
Try not to make any assumptions about your tween, their sexuality or gender identity. Your assumption may be entirely incorrect, and regardless of what you believe, your tween may identify differently, or may not yet fully understand. Tweens can and do experiment with their gender identities and expressions of it, but never indicate to them that it is ‘just a phase’, no matter how positively you try to phrase it. This stage may pass, or it may not. And for those for whom it doesn’t pass, the labelling of their identity as a phase is extremely damaging.
3. Be Open and Encourage Conversation
Let your tween know that you are always happy to talk with them about anything, or just listen, but never pressure them into conversations, or try to encourage them to ‘out’ themselves. Even if you believe that your tween is LGBTQ+, wait for them to broach it with you in their own way and in their own time.
4. Demonstrate Unconditional Acceptance
Make sure your tween knows that you love them unconditionally, no matter who they are, or who they may be attracted to. Your love and support of them will never change. Also, don’t presume that they instinctively know this. Tell them often.
5. Celebrate Differences and Call out Bad Behaviour
Be positive about differences and celebrate all sorts of families and couples. Let them know that you value love and identity in all its glorious differences. Actively search out television programmes, films and books featuring those from the LGBTQ+ community and make it a normal part of your family life to demonstrate acceptance. Call out friends and other family members for homophobia and transphobia and check yourself if you say something that could be offensive. Allowing negative talk from others can lead LGBTQ+ tweens to develop something known as internalised homophobia or transphobia (where they themselves believe it is wrong and hugely struggle with their feelings and identity).
6. Watch Your Language
Don’t talk with your tweens about when they grow up and ‘get a boyfriend’ or ‘get a girlfriend’. This language assumes that they are heterosexual and is part of our heteronormative culture. Instead, use inclusive language – ‘Whoever you may love when you are older’ or, ‘When you get a boyfriend or a girlfriend’. If and when your tween does ‘come out’ to you, don’t stop talking about potential romantic partners. Some parents can feel uncomfortable and so stop mentioning future loves altogether, but this lack of conversation can be keenly felt by LGBTQ+ tweens.
7. Keep Your Concerns to Yourself
Don’t mention any concern you may have for them as a LGBTQ+ tween. You wouldn’t mention concerns if they were heterosexual, so there is no need to mention it if they are LGBTQ+. If you do have worries, remember, they are yours, not those of your tween. Sharing with them will not help them but could hurt them. Similarly, don’t raise concerns that you won’t become a grandparent or similar. Once again, there is no guarantee of grandchildren if your children are heterosexual cisgendered and there are many ways for LGBTQ+ individuals to become parents.
8. Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Don’t presume friends of the opposite sex are always romantic or tease your tween about it. Similarly, if your tween does tell you that they are attracted to those of the same sex, don’t presume they are attracted to all their same-sex friends. If you are straight, you are not automatically attracted to everybody of the opposite sex and you have many platonic friendships; the same is true for those who identify as LGBTQ+.
9. Watch out for Gender Stereotypes
Be mindful of gender stereotypes in your home and family and try to avoid them as much as possible. This could be in what you say, phrases you use, toys you buy and so on. If friends or relatives keep sending highly gender-stereotyped cards or gifts, gently ask them to stop doing so and suggest what they may consider instead.
10. Encourage Autonomy
Allow and encourage your tween to have freedom over their own appearance. For instance, give them as much autonomy as possible with their hairstyle and their clothing, regardless of their sex.
If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UK, Australia, USA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world
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