Last spring, Helena Kirschner’s story of de-transitioning made waves. Helena detailed what lured her into gender transition—and how she got out. She had felt insecure about her body and was struggling with an eating disorder. She became estranged from friends and family. A few clicks on Google opened her up to an online community ready to welcome and accept her. Eventually, she recognized that questioning her gender identity elevated her online social status even more. She changed how she dressed and started binding her chest, and when she turned 18, she began taking high doses of testosterone.
Through all this, the refrain she heard from social workers, psychologists, and friends was that gender transition would eventually make her depression disappear. Helena writes now, however, that the real result was “an even wider disconnect from understanding the conditions that led me to feel such sadness, fear, and grief.”
As parents, how many of our kids could voice the same insecurities and struggles Helena had? Now imagine that when your child felt these things, someone promised her that gender transition would let her trade awkward loneliness for belonging? Can you feel the pull? Our kids are particularly vulnerable at this stage in life, at this time in history. What can we do?
Questions of gender and sexuality are ubiquitous in the social universe of today’s teens. Whether through social media, classroom instruction, or friends’ stories, it’s a firehose of the same fallacy: The core of your identity is your gender identity. You create you.
The question for Christian parents is not whether but how to talk about transgender ideology with our kids. We want to suggest three specific ways parents can counter bad ideas that might be shaping their children’s understanding of gender.
1. Normalize growing-up struggles.
Current gender ideology worms its way into our children’s psyches by amplifying and exploiting the struggles most kids experience growing up (and mercifully, tend to forget).
As parents, we can help our kids by taking seriously any signs of anxiety, depression, loneliness, or self-harm. This generation is experiencing mental health issues at alarming rates, and they need our attention, time, and intervention—but not the false promise that all their pain will disappear if they can just pass as the other sex.
Our kids also need reassurance that their experiences of insecurity, body discomfort, and social awkwardness during adolescence are normal for most kids everywhere. Parents should often say, “You’re not the only one. I remember feeling similarly. This is how life looks at 15. It will get better, I promise.”
Share vulnerable stories with your kids about when your friends laughed at you, or your parents argued incessantly, or the boy you kind of liked preferred your best friend, or how you looked in the mirror and wished you saw someone different.
We tend to lose hope if we think a problem will never change. Children and adolescents have notoriously short horizons. Kids need help to see that God makes a new path out of what seems like a dead end.
Children and adolescents have notoriously short horizons. Kids need help to see that God makes a new path out of what seems like a dead end.
Finally, our kids need to know that if they’re feeling at odds with their gender (gender dysphoria), this resolves by itself over time for the vast majority of people. The discomfort fades. We grow into a bodily reality of feeling at home as the woman or man we are. Resorting to puberty blockers is like shooting your foot off because it’s hard to train for a race.
2. Celebrate gender.
Gender ideology (remaking the human body to comply with what one feels) is empty of real substance. It’s built on stilts. The detachment of “gender” from biology has led to a place where anyone can “be” a man or a woman simply by asserting they are. Is that a desirable world?
As Christian parents, we have a much more satisfying story on gender. Our faith brings body and soul together in an integrated life. Where “gender identity” splits a “person” from his or her body, Christianity insists your body has meaning and purpose as an integral part of how you bear God’s image (Gen. 1:27). Humanity’s sexed (male or female) biology is intentionally designed to reveal the goodness of God. We should underline this reality over and over with our kids.
Resorting to puberty blockers is like shooting your foot off because it’s hard to train for a race.
There’s much more to be said here, but these are breadcrumbs on the trail leading us to a glorious mystery: Jesus is our Bridegroom and we are the Bride he loves. God designed our bodies to mean something not only biologically but also theologically. Rightly understood, our maleness and femaleness whisper to us of the gospel.
From this backdrop, in age-appropriate ways, we can weave God’s design of gender into ordinary conversation. We might ask questions like the following:
- How do your mom and dad look and sound different to you? How do they feel different to you?
- What do you love about being a boy or being a girl?
- What unique things do you tend to notice about females and males, and how do their differences complement one another?
- What’s one thing males and females can do together that a group of males or a group of females cannot do without the other sex?
These simple conversations can open doors to celebrate gender differences, with no implication of greater or lesser value. Other times, they provide the chance to refute the stereotypes gender-change activists use to suggest a child is in the wrong body. If a girl loves to climb trees and a boy loves to dance, it doesn’t mean the girl should become a boy or vice versa. It simply means you’re a girl who climbs trees, and you’re a boy who loves to dance. As Nancy Pearcey suggests, reject the stereotypes, not your body.
As your children approach adolescence, talk to them about romantic desire, marriage and sex, and procreation as a natural telos of sex. If you don’t, Google, TikTok, teachers, and friends will take the leading roles in shaping your child’s perceptions. Here are a few among many possibilities for conversation starters:
- What kinds of things does a girl appreciate in a guy because he’s different from her? What draws a guy to a girl because she brings something unlike him?
- When a man and woman marry, they pledge their lives to each other. What does this say to you about God’s covenant love for us? (See Isa. 62:5; Hos. 2:19, 20; Rev. 19:7.) How is this different from the way many approach love relationships today?
- Birth control and other contraceptive technologies have created a modern culture where sex is distanced from—or even set in opposition to—a beautiful outcome for which God designed sex: having babies. Today’s culture often sees pregnancy after sex as an unwanted surprise or “problem.” Isn’t this odd? How does the biblical call to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) illuminate the meaning of why God created “male and female” (Gen. 1:27)?
Getting our kids (and perhaps ourselves) to think deeply about these things is important because today’s gender ideology offers an alternative gospel. Our kids feel the longing felt by everyone since the fall—the longing for resurrection and connection. Believe and receive a new name, a new identity, a new body, a new and loving community. Transgender ideology offers this “good news” to our kids, but it cannot deliver.
3. Connect kindness and truth.
Proverbs 3:3 pairs kindness with truth in this way: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you” (NASB). It’s a relevant pairing today, in part because Gen Z doesn’t hear truth well unless the truth is framed in kindness. In their conversations with friends, compassion generally means unconditional affirmation: “You do you.” Empathy is the prevailing virtue. As the popular yard sign declares, “Kindness is everything.”
As a father of teenagers, I (Josh) missed this for a long time. In conversations with my kids, I tried to frame truth first and then season it with compassion. But a youth pastor friend helped me see that for this generation, truth doesn’t ring true if it doesn’t sound kind. Now, I’m learning to start with kindness, followed by how God’s truth leads to greater kindness. Some examples include the following:
- Studies show most kids with gender dysphoria outgrow it, but today’s culture pushes kids to treat being trans as permanent. Isn’t it cruel to force kids into a box they aren’t allowed to escape?
- I’m sorry to hear about your classmate’s depression. That’s so hard. He needs people who will take time to uncover the deeper roots of his struggles because gender transition usually doesn’t improve those symptoms.
- How can we help people who are dissatisfied with their gender in ways that will provide lasting benefits and won’t permanently damage their bodies?
- How do you think it feels for a female swimmer who has trained her whole life and risen to the highest levels of competition to have to compete against a biological male who identifies as a woman yet has a male physique?
I try to share one clear thought and then quietly step back (teenagers need time to mull things over). Then later I look for another opening to pick up the conversation or ask more questions.
Know Who Else Has Their Ear
While we Christian parents should seek opportunities to initiate conversations about gender with our kids, we also need to know who else has their ear. Helena Kirschner is just one of a growing number who have exposed how enticing and aggressive pro-trans influencers are online, especially for teenagers.
In an earlier interview with Rod Dreher, Kirschner makes the point that parents ask lots of questions when a child wants to go to a sleepover. Where is it? Who will be there? But a child can be sitting in the same room with a parent, chatting online with a stranger suggesting puberty blockers and cross sex hormones, and the parent is completely unaware. Helena begs the question, do you know where your children are?
Perhaps that’s the real point of stepping into regular conversation around gender with your children. It’s vital to know where their minds are, what cracks in their armor make them vulnerable to gender ideology. But more positively, you want to give your kids a vision for becoming someone whose deepest identity is rooted in the strong and beautiful reality of being created in the image of God, male or female.