Despite being 26 this year, I remember the first time I was ever exposed to a conversation on LGBTQ+. It was in my first year of university, as a starry-eyed 21-year-old, ten thousand miles away from Singapore.
My parents never talked to me about LGTBQ+, nor did school teach me about this.
How times have changed.
If you’re the parent of a child today, you may be confused, anxious and worried over how much exposure your child is getting to this issue in the current social media environment. You may be wondering how best to talk to your child about this.
With the recent government announcement about the repeal of Section 377A, which criminalises sex between men, it may be all the more critical to begin engaging your child in this conversation.
Here are some guidelines that can help.
Firstly, it helps to understand your child’s development. Your child’s brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25. That may mean that the concerns your child brings to you may be part of a phase, rather than anything permanent.
This is especially the case during puberty, where your child experiences rapid changes hormonally and within their bodies. They may find themselves “attracted” to someone of the same gender and start having questions about their own sexuality.
As a parent, you play an important role in helping the child to recognise that this emotional turbulence and confusion within them, may be a passing phase or even just a form of admiration for a same-sex peer.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to what your child says or cast doubt on everything they say. But do be aware that such a confusion over their identity or sexuality could be experienced by your child but need not signal something life-changing.
As parents, you may never have had conversations with your own parents about sex. That may influence your level of comfort with having these conversations with your own kids.
But having these conversations as early as possible can remind your child that you are a safe space where they can raise questions and concerns about what can be a confusing world to live in.
You may not want your child to end up being swayed by their peers in school, without them having learnt anchors that can hold them steady in these turbulent times.
I spoke to June Yong, Lead of Insights at Focus on the Family Singapore, and she provided these helpful conversational handles:
Build on the topic layer by layer. For example, for preschoolers, start with the basics – naming of body parts, sexual identity, and how babies are made. Through this, you can help your child understand that this means every child has one mummy and one daddy who “made” them.
By the time children are 9 or 10 years old, you may want to explore how the body changes during puberty and what to expect, or discuss the dangers of porn.
It is good to reach a consensus with your spouse on your family’s stand on dating and boundaries in relationships, so that you can explain to your child your values in a calm and thoughtful way.
These first principles can help them to form a good foundation to tackle issues around LGBTQ+ later.
As parents, often, it’s important to distinguish whether we cannot or do not want to have these conversations. The former is a question of ability, which can be learnt through helpful workshops.
But not wanting to can be more subtle. We may find ourselves discomforted by the idea of having such conversations with our children. We may experience a sudden blush, feeling sheepish or embarrassed of the idea of talking about the birds and the bees.
Perhaps we need to first get in touch with our own discomfort, and just be aware that it’s there. We could then be more open to acknowledging that we, as parents, don’t have all the answers.
The key thing is – Be available and willing to journey with our child through that process, and to figure it out together. Grab hold of teaching moments when they present themselves, and try not to skirt the elephant in the room simply because of the discomfort.
LGBTQ is not an easy issue to discuss. But it will be made easier if your child already has a good relationship with you, marked by psychological safety.
Take it as a learning journey for yourself, too.
Questions can serve as a useful jumpstart to these tricky conversations. Some helpful questions include:
This can be a useful way to use current affairs to start a conversation.
It may be easier for your child to talk about what their friends, or others think, rather than what they personally think. Use these as starting points to explore your child’s thoughts on the issue.
It can be helpful for you to share your own questions about the issue. As parents, we sometimes expect ourselves to know it all. Realistically, we can’t.
I remember hearing this gem from a 70-year-old community leader: “Well John, I don’t know if I have all the answers. But what I do know is that we may sometimes miss the tree for the forest. And that perhaps the issue isn’t confusion over homosexuality, but confusion over our own sexuality.”
This position of “vulnerable inquiry”, where you share your own challenges working through the LGBTQ+ debate, but also share your own anchors to negotiating this issue, can model to your child a better way to think about the issue.
Most parents don’t think of celebrating their daughter’s first period, as periods are often associated with pain and discomfort. But it is also a significant milestone in your daughter’s journey into womanhood.
Imagine if we celebrated moments like these and used the opportunity to affirm our children’s sense of self, helping them be proud of who they are, and how they are made.
For boys, some parents like to throw a big birthday bash when they reach their first double-digit birthday, using the occasion to talk about one’s duties and responsibilities as a young man, and the challenges that may come with that. This can be another way in to speaking about LGBTQ+.
For example, you might say:
As children grow, they may start taking reference from their peers, rather than you. Even if it’s tough getting through to your teenager, persevere and keep reaching out and building bridges.
At times, it may be useful to find age-similar role models for your child and intentionally help them connect with trusted friends whom they can speak to about careers, relationship, and life. Such mentor figures can serve as a guide for your children during these difficult times.
LGBTQ is not an easy issue to discuss. But it will be made easier if your child already has a good relationship with you, marked by psychological safety. Think of psychological safety as a warm bubble bath on a cold day – an environment where your child feels safe to bring their worries and concerns, knowing that you won’t fault them for it.
Building this takes time. It takes trust. And perhaps most importantly, it takes love. A love that will accept differences in opinion, disagreements, while also offering a principled stand on an issue that has divided our nation.
Because I believe that it is such a responsible and boundaried love that will ultimately keep us united and strong.
© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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