Parents of young boys: you need to do better

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Imagine if your child had a one in ten chance of being a genius. Would you foster their skills? Would you entertain the possibility they’re special?

 

What if your child had a one in ten chance of developing a serious illness? You’d imagine most parents would prepare for the possibility.

 

Then why don’t we prepare ourselves for the fact that our children might be sexuality or gender diverse?

 

The Kinsey Institute reports that seven percent of adult women and eight percent of men in America identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Other studies suggest these numbers would be closer to one in ten were it not for underreporting and social stigma.

 

So why are we so unprepared to talk about sexuality and gender diversity with our kids and what impact is this lack of conversation having?

 

A recent study by the mental health charity beyondblue found that young Australian men still hold extremely homophobic views with the study finding that:

“- One in five said they find it hard to treat same-sex attracted people the same as others.
– Six in 10 said they had witnessed first-hand people being bullied for their sexuality and four in 10 said they had seen people bullied for the same reason on social media.
– A quarter said terms such as “homo”, “dyke” and “confused” are “not really that bad”.
– Four in 10 either agreed that they felt anxious or uncomfortable around same-sex attracted people or did not disagree that they felt this way, while 23% think it’s ok to say something they don’t like is “gay” and 38% wouldn’t be happy if a same-sex attracted person was in their friendship group.”

 

Parents of young boys – you need to do better.

 

If you haven’t considered the possibility that your child might be gay you need to consider the high likelihood that one of their peers will be. You are in the single most important factor in making sure your child isn’t a victim or a perpetrator of discrimination.

 

Initiatives like the Safe Schools Coalition Australia aim to combat these attitudes in schools with the knowledge that “75% of same sex attracted or gender diverse young people in Australia experience some form of homophobic or transphobic abuse” and that “80% of these homophobic and transphobic incidents take place in schools” (From Minus 18’s ‘Stand Out’ booklet).

 

Initiatives like the Safe Schools Coalition do important work in fighting homophobia in schools, but it’s only a band aid solution to a problem that should be tackled much earlier in the home.

 

What beyondblue’s study shows is that parents are not doing enough before these young men reach school. If you’re serious about the long term wellbeing of your child and their peers you need to act early. It isn’t good enough to assume your child and their peers will identify as you expect. The only safe assumption is diversity.

 

What can you do to ensure your child is prepared and supported?

 

– Educate yourself on sexuality and gender diversity so you’re prepared when you talk to your child about it.
– Discuss sexuality and gender diversity openly with your child and do it early. Tell them early on that you will support and love them no matter what.
– Don’t assume the sexuality or gender identity of your child or that of their peers.
– Have an open discussion with your child about discrimination and reject it unreservedly.
– Make your community accountable. When your child does reach school make sure the school actively rejects discrimination and hold them accountable.

 

The conversation might be uncomfortable. The conversation might raise more questions than answers, but the vital part is telling your child you have their back and that you as their central role model reject discrimination in all its forms.

 

The only way to have a serious impact on the level of homophobia amongst young men is to educate yourself, act early and educate your child. It’s not enough to expect schools and the community to do it for you.

 

The positive side to all this is that we are progressing, albeit slowly. If your child is part of the one in ten the time has never been better for them to grow up into a happy, healthy and loved adult like any child deserves. Growing up as a sexuality or gender diverse young person still has its challenges, but the more of us who say “I have your back” and do something about it the easier it gets.

 

Jonathan Brown is a media educator based in Melbourne.

 

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