Editors’ note: We received the following question from a reader:
In a recent visit to the pediatrician, the doctor had a private conversation with my 13-year-old son where he asked him if he felt like a girl or a boy. I was surprised that the doctor never informed me about the discussion or asked me whether he could talk about gender identity with my child. Don’t parents have rights that would prevent that from happening? Where do I go to find about my rights related to transgender ideology?
Your question is one that’s increasingly being asked by parents. From schools to pediatricians’ offices, parents are facing more and more encroachment on their authority when it comes to the issue of transgenderism.
While I don’t want to downplay your concerns about your legal options, I believe that thinking about the issue in terms of “rights” is insufficient. Here’s why.
The U.S. Constitution protects some of our most basic rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. But freedom to direct your children’s moral education isn’t one of them.
Before he died in 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly warned Americans that our duties and rights as parents are circumscribed by the cultural norms of the secular public.
For example, in 2016 Scalia told an audience at Georgetown University Law Center there is no U.S. constitutional right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.
Although Scalia believed the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children is among the “unalienable rights” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, it’s not a right necessarily protected by the Constitution since many “important rights are not contained there.”
“For example, my right to raise my children the way I want,” Scalia said. “To teach them what I want them taught, not what Big Brother says. That is not there.”
To ensure this unalienable right is protected, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina proposed an amendment to the Constitution last year relating to parental rights. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice in December 2017. Almost five years later, absolutely no action has been taken on the proposed amendment.
Some actions to preserve parental rights are being taken at the state level. Four states (Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and Arizona) have enacted restrictions on social, psychological, behavioral, or medical interventions (including hormonal treatment or surgery) designed to alter or affirm a minor’s sexual identity. However, the laws in Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas have been temporarily blocked by court rulings. Additionally, 15 states are considering 25 similar pieces of legislation.
But even in states where parental rights are enshrined in the legal code, the government tends to find a way to circumvent parental authority. For example, the commonwealth of Virginia specifically protects the rights of parents: “A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.” But Virginia also has a law that prohibits doctors, social workers, and therapists from engaging in “any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s . . . gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions.” In other words, the parent has a fundamental right to prevent a child from trying to change his or her gender identity—but the state will prevent them from being helped to do that by any licensed health professional.
This might be sufficient if the state took a stance of neutrality. But the government is increasingly taking the side of transgender activists to subvert the influence of parents. For example, 21 states have policies requiring teachers to assign new names and pronouns to trans-identifying students without parental notice or consent.
We should, of course, continue to lobby all areas of the government to protect our rights as parents. But legislative solutions will likely not be enough, nor will they come soon enough. We don’t have time to wait for politicians to fix the problem, because their help—if it comes at all—will come much too late for most families.
We don’t have time to wait for politicians to fix the problem of transgender ideology. Their help—if it comes at all—will come much too late for most families.
Instead of focusing on what are our “rights” as parents, we should be asking what proactive steps we can take on our own. Here are four recommendations.
1. Change your default setting.
A default setting is the particular set of habits that govern how we normally act or behave in a particular circumstance. Most parents have a default mental setting when it comes to what we expect from other adults toward our children: unless we have reason to believe otherwise, we assume they will not undermine our values. We often adopt this perspective about those who have some authority over our kids, such as pediatricians and public school educators.
Parents have probably needed to abandon this default mode for at least three decades. But it’s become more apparent in the last few years that we have to reverse the presumption. Unless an authority figure has clearly stated she agrees that gender and sexual identity are immutable, we must assume she’ll teach our children that gender and sexuality are fluid and alterable.
This doesn’t require assuming the worst of anyone. It merely requires being proactive and asking questions. By asking a simple question, you might be shocked to find the gentle and avuncular pediatrician who has cared for your family shares the unscientific views on “gender-affirming care” promoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s better to know before the physician has your child alone in the examining room and asks if he or she is “moving fluidly between masculine and feminine presentations, or desiring gender-related medical interventions, such as hormone therapy or top surgery.”
2. Have a plan to prevent peer contagion.
The term “peer contagion” describes a process of mutual influence between a child or adolescent and his or her peers that includes behaviors and emotions that potentially undermine one’s own development or cause harm to others. The rapid growth of transgenderism among children is almost wholly a result of peer contagion.
Consider, for example, the recent experience of a public school teacher who identifies himself as a male secular feminist, as an “early adopter of wokeness,” and as a former teen who identified as transgender. This is a lengthy excerpt, but it highlights how tragic the problem has become in some public schools:
Here are some solid figures: I had six classes last year, and I didn’t have a single one without multiple students who identified as transgender. Some classes had more than others, but the absolutely lowest number was two in a 26-person class. Most of these students were just non-binary, but I had [at] least five in the midst of actual medical transition, along with quite a few more who spent their days planning how to get the process started. I’d estimate that 70% or so of these students are female, and talk about breast binding and “top surgery” are common conversation topics at lunch time. It’s hard to not step in when you hear an obviously depressed, dysfunctional teenage girl working out how she can convince her parents to approve a double mastectomy, but what can you do? If I said anything at all, I’d be fired in a heartbeat.
These children’s identities, as you might expect, are wildly unstable; I can count a total of nineteen pronoun changes requested by twelve students over just the last semester, along with six for changing names. It’s relatively common for students to transition, detransition, and transition again, especially in response to the identity shifts in their classmates. At one point, a single student’s decision to go with they/them pronouns set off a chain reaction that resulted in four more of her friends doing the same. It’s gotten so ridiculous that a neighboring teacher recommended weekly pronoun checks, just to avoid the outrage that inevitably comes with every “misgendering.” . . .
Nowadays, gay and lesbian teenagers mainly live their lives as, well, gay and lesbian teenagers—it’s the socially awkward heterosexuals who flock around them, desperate for a “marginalized identity” of their own, that you need to be worrying about.
In other words: It used to be that childhood transition was a way for gay kids to make themselves straight, but now it’s primarily a way for straight kids to make themselves gay. And why wouldn’t they? In these internet-poisoned youth subcultures, being a boring straight kid (especially a boring straight girl!) puts you at the absolute bottom of the hierarchy, a totally acceptable target for barely concealed contempt and passive bullying. I had a group of queer students who ate lunch by my desk every day, and every other joke they made was about the one “token heterosexual” who liked to hang out with them. Of course, she was non-binary too by the end of the year—you can only take peers “punching up” at you for so long before you’d want to join them on their level.
The most important and obvious step parents can take is to help their child select the right group of peers. For better and for worse, your child will be influenced by the people he or she associates with. While the Bible doesn’t use the term “peer contagion,” it has quite a lot to say about both the company we keep and avoiding negative influences:
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Prov. 13:20)
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. (Prov. 1:10)
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33)
We can’t completely control whom they’re exposed to, of course, but whenever possible, parents should know their children’s peer groups. And as much as we can, we should choose whom they spend their time with both online and in person.
The most important and obvious step parents can take is to help their child select the right group of peers. For better and for worse, your child will be influenced by the people he or she associates with.
Unfortunately, in our attempt to be caring and compassionate, we Christian parents may put our children in danger of peer contagion. A prime example is when we encourage our child to befriend children whom the apostle Paul would deem to be “bad company.” We justify the relationship by telling ourselves that our child will be a positive, and maybe even godly, influence on the wayward neighbor. But we tend to overestimate the moral influence and leadership abilities of our children. Instead of being role models, our children may be the ones enticed to sin. If you encourage such friendships, try to minimize your child’s exposure to them—limit it to settings where other Christian adults or children are also present (such as youth group) and avoid private, one-on-one encounters.
3. Increase and improve your child’s intergenerational influences.
A primary way to offset the effect of peer contagion is to dilute the effect of peers by increasing your child’s intergenerational influences. Unfortunately, many of the older influences in positions of authority—such as pediatricians and public school educators—are likely to reinforce the harmful influences. We need to find ways for teens and younger children to be affected by Christ-honoring adults.
A primary way to offset the effect of peer contagion is to dilute the effect of peers by increasing your child’s intergenerational influences.
Having older “peers” in their lives can dilute the effect of children’s own age cohort and give teens a broader perspective on their problems. It’s also helpful for older children and teens to have an adult in the church (and outside of their family) they can turn to for guidance or talk to about their struggles on such issues as gender identity. This will require many more adults in the church to become better prepared to address such issues in a compassionate and biblical manner.
Intergenerational community is part of God’s vision for the church and family, which is why our children suffer when they don’t have friendships and influences that cross generational lines.
4. Trust the Lord to provide the help you need.
It can be frustrating for parents who ask for help to be told, “Trust God.” But while the church and the state should provide as much help as possible, there’s no greater source of help than Jesus. As Psalm 121 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
No matter how many forces we parents have arrayed against us, we can trust that the God who made us male and female will be on our side.