John Wants to Be Jane: 3 Ways to Counsel a Gender-Confused Child

Will I harm my child if I don’t embrace their trans identity? What should I say in response to their confusion? How can I help my child?

While Christian parents can’t affirm their child’s misplaced desires, they have a God-given responsibility to lovingly help their child through a real struggle with gender identity. Rather than being bewildered into ineffectiveness, parents can proactively care for their child in at least three basic ways.

 

“Mom and Dad, can we talk?”

With this seemingly ordinary request, your 14-year-old son goes on to reveal that he identifies as a girl. He tells you he’s been quietly uncomfortable in his male body for years. Recently, he’s connected with transgender teens at school and online, and the similarity of their feelings and experiences has confirmed to him that he is transgender. He asks you to start referring to him as your daughter.

Perhaps you’re a parent of a teen or preteen who has told you something similar. Or you know someone going through this experience. According to a 2018 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are approximately 500,000 trans children in the United States, or 0.7 percent of the population.

If they haven’t already, many Christians will face the resulting jumble of questions: Will I harm my child if I don’t embrace their trans identity? What should I say in response to their confusion? How can I help my child?

While Christian parents can’t affirm their child’s misplaced desires, they have a God-given responsibility to lovingly help their child through a real struggle with gender identity. Rather than being bewildered into ineffectiveness, parents can proactively care for their child in at least three basic ways.

  1. Acknowledge the Struggle; Speak the Truth

It’s true that transgender youth have higher rates of depression and other mental illnesses than others in their peer group. Whether or not this is a direct consequence of discrimination and victimization isn’t easy to discern. But the fact remains that trans students are more at risk for depression, self-harming behaviors, and suicidal ideation than their non-trans peers are.

Don’t let the possibility that gender-questioning, gender-dysphoric, or trans children will respond unfavorably to your words prevent you from speaking with them. Instead, acknowledge the particularly tender and broken hearts and spirits of children and teens who struggle with their gender identity. Approach them from a posture of steadfast love. Don’t refuse to speak, but be tender.

Loving your child doesn’t mean affirming everything they think or do. Parents in particular have the uniquely difficult calling of teaching their kids to reason through life from the perspective of God’s Word (Deut. 6:5–9). His Word is our most helpful resource. It’s living and active, with the ability to speak powerfully to the hearts of our children (Heb. 4:12). And what God says about gender and identity is what’s best for our teens. The law of God is the law of a compassionate King who created and sustains us and who, therefore, knows exactly what is best for us.

As we approach God’s Word with our children, we can use it to help them discern truth from falsehood, reality from feeling, true identity from counterfeit. For the parent of a child who struggles with gender, it means affirming your love and commitment for your child, while giving them tools to navigate a confusing series of feelings and messages coming from both without and within.

Approaching this information from a biblical perspective, parents and caregivers of gender-questioning, gender-dysphoric, or trans children will want to prayerfully speak the truth in love to the young ones under their care. God deals tenderly and compassionately with his children, remembering our fragile nature (Ps. 103:13–14Isa. 42:3). He calls us to reason with one another gently and bear with one another in love, realizing we ourselves are recipients of his grace (Eph. 4:1–2).

  1. Discover the Struggle behind the Struggle
  2. Talk About Self Harm

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