Navigating Gender Questions with Gentleness: Jared Kennedy
Gender questions can set parents on their heels. Children's ministry vet Jared Kennedy offers navigating tough gender issues with humility and gentleness. Learn how to respond thoughtfully, ask important questions, and cultivate ongoing conversations with gender-questioning children.
About the Guest
- Connect with Jared Kennedy on Twitter @JaredSKennedy, or catch more of his thoughts at his website: The Gospel Centered Family
- And grab his book, Keeping Your Children's Ministry on Mission: Practical Strategies for Discipling the Next Generation
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Gender questions can set parents on their heels. Children’s ministry vet Jared Kennedy offers thoughtful insight on on navigating tough gender issues with humility and gentleness.
Navigating Gender Questions with Gentleness: Jared Kennedy
Shelby: Hey Shelby Abbott here. Just want to give a heads up before you listen to this next program. Today’s conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive but important subjects that might not be suitable for younger ears. So please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast. Alright now let’s jump into it.
Jared: Brokenness started very early in the Bible, and sexual brokenness-
Jared: –started at a very early stage in the Bible. And one of the things I really want for my daughters is I want them to encounter the brokenness of this world in the pages of Scripture before they encounter the brokenness of this world on YouTube.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Okay, here’s a heavy topic. If a friend of yours came to you, a parent, and said, “My daughter wants to identify as a boy.” Ann Wilson, what would you say?
Ann: It’s funny. I haven’t had that question. I’ve had a lot of parents come up to me and say, “My child has identified as gay or same sex attracted,” but I haven’t had this one. And so I think I would need help in exactly what to say. Even as our kid’s friends are wondering or struggling, I think this is a really important topic to discuss.
Dave: Yes, and it’s front of mind for a lot of families. You know 10, 15 years ago when we were raising our kids this was not something that came up around the dinner table, but it is something that parents are talking about today and need help.
Ann: It needs to be talked about.
Dave: Yes. So Jared Kennedy is back in the studio, Welcome back Jared.
Jared: Thanks for having me Dave. It’s good to be here.
Dave: Now you’ve written a book, which you know I said earlier, is like, wow. You tackled a big topic. The title is A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: Helping Kids Navigate a Confusing Culture. Obviously you’re in the family space. You write. You guide writers; you provide resources to help families disciple their kids in Christ. So why this? I know a couple years ago you said, “I’ve got to write about this,” why?
Jared: Yes, well before my current role as an editor and resource provider, I served for 13 years as a family pastor in a local church, in an urban context where I encountered kids that had come out as trans to their parents.
Jared: And I think I began writing on this because I had no idea of what to do and so this was an area where I just began to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of reading and think through, “How are we going to teach on this with our teenagers and our local church?” And then, “How do I respond pastorally when moms and their daughters or moms and dads and their sons come into my office and ask these questions?”
Dave: I mean I think a lot of parents are like, “I need help. I need resources.” So help us. Where would we start?
Ann: We get scared because we don’t want to respond poorly
Jared: Yes, that’s right.
Ann: –and you know we want to be helpful, but we’re also freaking out inside possibly.
Jared: Yes that’s right.
Ann: So we really need some guidance.
Jared: Yes and this is such a hard topic because it touches on theology; it touches on child development; it touches on so much of kind of what is encountered in our society and there can be tons of anxiety that moms and dads are feeling.
If your daughter announces that she no longer wants to be called Joan but wants to be called Jim and is coming out. Then a simple two weeks ago her wanting to wear her hat backwards was a fashion statement, and now it takes on this deep weight, you know. Is this cross-dressing now? Has this crossed that line? And so I think the first thing to remember is that God works through weakness. I think it can be very tempting to react in that moment in an angry way, or in a controlling way.
Ann: Or even like, “You don’t even know what you’re talking about. You’re a kid. You don’t even know what’s going on right now.”
Jared: Yes, which maybe true- [Laughter]
Dave: Keep that to yourself, yes.
Jared: –but as moms and dads we should keep that to ourselves. I think in that moment you want to crucify those deep emotions and respond in the most humble and gentle way and really begin by listening. I think that is the most important–and by asking a lot of questions.
Jared: I think the more that you can get a kid to tell a story, “When did you start feeling this way? Is this something that’s been going on for months or for weeks? When did you first kind of hear about this? Do you have other friends that are–that’s you’ve been processing this with before this is-
Ann: People are probably writing all this down right [Laughter] now you know. Those are good.
Jared: But just to begin to ask those questions and draw them out.
Ann: And at that point too, are we showing empathy? Because I’m thinking that’s super important.
Jared: If you’ve ever confessed your sins to someone, that takes courage.
Jared: And a child may not understand this as sin, they may in that moment. They just may know that it’s something they feel a lot of shame and embarrassment or fear over being honest about this with mom and dad. But nevertheless it takes a lot of courage for them to be honest with you.
So if they’ve been honest about the way that they’re identifying, the way that they’re viewing themselves then empathy is super important. So in that moment we’re feeling all of this deep anxiety and frustration and anger, but if we can listen and then show empathy for honestly the pain they may be feeling or the anxiety and the fear they’re feeling. The more you can cultivate a conversation.
Dave: Yes, I was just thinking the moment to do that, its like I’d have to be praying
because in one sense you’re just devastated.
Ann: Yes. As a mom I’m thinking of their future. I’ve already gone into high school, college, you know, their 30s.
Ann: Yes that’s what I do. I process all the way forward.
Dave: You’re in shock-
Dave: –initially because you’re like we’re literally better than this.-
Jared: You were taught better than this. You know better than this. You know those are all the things that are rising up
Dave: So you’re feeling all that inside and yet on the outside as you look at your son or your daughter you have to hold that in and deal with them in the moment. Maybe go to a room later and freak out or just say, “Oh my goodness,” but in that moment empathy. I know in your book you walk sort of steps. Like one of them is celebrate.
Jared: Yes, so in the book in the celebrate chapter, I’m really thinking about you know two, three, four year olds. You know kids at a younger age before they ever encounter any sort of gender confusion; that you want to celebrate how God made them and celebrate their identity as a boy and girl.
Jared: Which is something you know that in our culture, we do have gender reveal parties. It’s something that folks get excited about with newborns. But I think it’s something that feels maybe a little more awkward as kids get older.
But when you see those things about your son and daughter that are in accordance with God’s design, you want to talk in a real celebrative way about how God made them and the beauty of that. And so you know my oldest wants to go into medicine and she is like a task oriented go getter girl. But there is a nurturing aspect to that and when I see that nurture, getting excited about that and being able to celebrate, “Hey God has designed you. He’s designed your body as a body that can give life to a new baby and He’s designed you as someone who can nurture and care for others in a life giving way. I’m so thankful for the kind of woman that He has made you.”
And I can even point to examples of other women in history who have had that same kind of nurturing care for others and celebrate just the biological sex, the identity that God has given.
Dave: And like you said that starts early
Jared: And that starts early. That starts with little kids, when you're teaching them the name of private parts. [Laughter] You’re teaching–that’s not something that should be a shame inducing thing.
Jared: But it’s like what you have because you’re a boy you know, and I’m so thankful God has made you as a young man and being able to celebrate that when you see that in your young kids I think is so important in order to help them grow into a secure faith in how God has made them.
Ann: Hmm, I’ve shared here before but I think I was nine when I had told my mom, “I don’t want to be a girl. I’m so mad that I’m a girl. Boys have it way better and I want to play football,” and I’m just imagining if I said that to a parent today, to my mom today. It would probably feel very different than back when I was little.
I just remember my mom listening like, “Oh honey I know you’d been a great football player.” [Laughter] I remember her saying that, but later on after I had cried all day. I had an older sister. I’m like, oh you have to go through cycles. This is awful, but I remember my mom kind of sitting on the floor with me and she said, “Someday you know, you’re going to be really thankful, because it’s really special to be a woman.” She said, “You’re going to get to have a baby maybe, if you get married. You may not but you could have a baby. You have a part of you that’s unlike anyone else.”
Ann: And it was the first time, as this little girl, because I really wanted to be a boy - I just wanted to be an athlete.I thought girls were wimpy and they cried all the time.
Jared: –mmm hmm
Ann: And I just thought, “Huh,” it just gave me a perspective of maybe it is good to be a girl.
Jared: Mmm hmm
Ann: So I think our parents can really speak that beauty and life and even a future into our kids-
Jared: –mmm hmm
Ann: –as a female or as a male-
Jared: –mmm hmm
Ann: –like oh God has some great things in store for you.
Jared: Yes that is a real beautiful story Ann and I think that model of your mom in the moment–just listening.
Ann: You would have been a great football player! [Laughter]
Jared: It’s a–great, it’s affirming like you know I mean it’s a competitive spirit is not a bad thing. So affirming some of those things like really good aspects of what you were saying and then pulling you aside later and bringing that correction and casting a vision
for what it looks like. I think that’s a beautiful thing and that’s what I hope that celebrate part of the resource is equipping parents to do.
Dave: Yes, right and you mention in the book you start teaching your kids early about sex and their gender and all that.
Jared: That’s right.
Dave: So when do you start having discussions about gender dysphoria or those kinds of things that maybe they’re hearing as maybe they hit probably middle school or somewhere in that age? How do you step into that before they’ve ever said anything to you about them but they’re in a world, social media you name it, they’re seeing and hearing, maybe they have friends at school that are starting to say things. How do you step into that as a parent?
Jared: Yes, I mean I think two encouragements. I think one is be ready to talk about this because the brokenness is there in our culture and it’s going to come up. So I think one thing, whether you grab my resource or other resources, learn about these topics so that you’re ready to engage conversations when they do come up. Secondly, sometimes we do get this view of the Bible right, where everyone in the Old Testament was perfect, and they were great models and examples for us in our life, so you should be like Abraham and be like David.
Dave: –right [Laughter]
Jared: – The truth is brokenness started very early in the Bible, and sexual brokenness started at a very early stage in the Bible. One of the things I really want for my daughters, is I want them to encounter the brokenness of this world in the pages of Scripture, before they encounter the brokenness of this world on YouTube.
Jared: Having regular rhythms where you’re reading the Scriptures with your kids gives a framework for viewing those things within God’s categories, not in the world’s categories. It helps them to see that like, yes, biological sex was there in Genesis 1. Sex was there in the garden that Adam and Eve were created to be fruitful and to multiply. So you see the beauty of what God created, being able to look at biological sex and gender in light of that biblical storyline is something that I think is super essential.
And then secondly when those conversations come just be ready to do what you described your mom doing, [Laughter] where you listen and you hear and then later on you come alongside. So this is more of a story about broken sexuality then transgender.
When my daughter was in elementary school, I live in Kentucky we’re huge college basketball fans. There was a sex scandal at one of the universities in our town. I was sitting at a coffee shop across the street from our church with my oldest. I think she was like 10 or 11 at the time and I get the ESPN alert on my phone that says our basketball team is not going to be allowed to go to the NCAA tournament, because they’ve been put on probation and she’s like, “Why?” [Laughter]
And I was like, “Oh I don’t want to talk about this in the coffee shop.” [Laughter] But us being able to have those conversations with her and think about that at a kid’s level without going into too much detail, but having had conversations about sex and gender before and the biblical view of that, allows us when it then comes up in the culture to have those more reactive conversations at that time.
Dave: Yes, that’s good.
Ann: How have you had that conversation at the dinner table? What’s it sound like or even were you the one that defined what transgender was to your girls and how do you do that? What’s it sound like? Give us super practical, “Here’s how to do it.”
Jared: Yes, I mean I think gender dysphoria is this deep feeling of sometimes pain and anxiety over your given biological sex, given by God, the feeling that you are the opposite sex.
Ann: Did you explain that to your girls?
Jared: Yes I mean we’ve talked about it in those terms and then I think we did have conversations on the other side-
Jared: –like who in you life has experienced, whether it be same sex attraction or this kind of gender dysphoria or has identified publicly as trans?
Jared: How do you talk to them? How do you show compassion? What does it look like to show compassion but not compromise on biblical teaching?
Jared: I think that’s something every kid wrestles with. And then I’ve talked to a number of Christian parents whose kids have begun to identify in this way. And I think the response there, sympathetic is listening but then you don’t relinquish your authority as a parent, as long as your kids are still in your home you have a responsibility to shepherd and direct.
And so after that empathetic conversation there’s the time to come back alongside and like your mom did in a really gentle way when you were younger. We do the same things with older kids, but maybe in a more direct way bring correction. Those are some of the harder things where you’re making decisions for your kids that you know they’re going to buck against, that you know they feel anxiety about.
Ann: What would that look like Jared? What do you mean?
Jared: I think two really important things. One is recognizing as your kid tells a story who the influences are in their life that are leading them in a way that’s contrary to truth, and sometimes as parents when we recognize their worldly influences in our kids lives we have to cut off those influences.
Jared: That may mean moving a child to a different school. That may mean cutting off access to the internet or you know to the phone or social media, wherever those influences are. It may mean in that situation saying there are certain friends that we’re not going to allow you to be in certain contexts with. Those are the kinds of situations where you don’t want make other kids a pariah, but you also have the responsibility as the authority in your own kid’s lives to protect them from those influences. Then I think having certain house rules. I think that’s a very difficult decision for parents.
Ann: Yes. Because it seems like it would be a battle on many circumstances.
Jared: It could be a battle. There are also mental health struggles that kids have related to that as well and so I think you’ve just got to go really slow and very gentle recognizing those. Statistics show those who experience gender dysphoria that they experience higher suicide rates as well, so you want to go very, very slow with your kids-
Ann: Yes and lovingly.
Jared: –and lovingly and very, very gently, but not compromising the truth.
Dave: Yes you know and as I’m listening to you Jared I’m thinking it takes courage for a mom and dad to enter in to this discussion with their kids from little toddlers-
Jared: –mmm hmm
Dave: –but as they hit middle school and high school, I mean your conversation with your 10 year old, 11 year old daughter about you know the basketball team in Louisville is like, it takes courage. You’ve had discussions already. It wasn’t something that, “Oh this is the first time we’re going to talk about this topic.”
I would encourage dads, have the guts to go there. I can say this to moms too as well but I know it would be just as easy to say, “All do that tomorrow, or somebody else will do that,” or, “The church will do that.” I’m saying dads, do it.
This is the conversation you don’t want to start when they’re 18. You want to start when they’re 8 or 6 or 5 and then it’s something that is not that unusual to be talking about in your home, because they live in a family where we can talk about this. We can look at what God says about this. I can hear your push back on this. What things don’t you agree with? What questions do you have?
Jared: That’s good.
Dave: Let’s make this a place where we can talk about it.
Ann: And I think moms, we have to enter into this conversation, because this conversation is happening all across our culture and we have to as believers enter into it in a loving way.
I think terms are important too. Sometimes our kids come home and they use these terms. I remember freaking out like, “What in the world?” But you mentioned in your book, sometimes it’s good to ask them more about that.
Jared: Yes and you know we were talking about asking your kids questions and getting them to tell you a story-
Jared: –well sometimes in the midst of telling that story, this term will come out. It may be as simple as, “I’m gay,” or, “I’m trans,” but it could be some other term that hasn’t even been made up yet. [Laughter] And you don’t know what it means but they may not know what it means either.
Jared: And I think asking the question, “What do you mean by that?” Make sure you’re operating from the same standpoint. What can happen sometimes is a mom and dad has an idea about what something is, a child has a different idea about what that is. Having a good conversation, “What do you mean by the language that you’re using?”
Ann: Or what do you think that word means?
Jared: What do you think that word means?
Jared: It just puts you on the same page, so that the conversation is coming from the same starting point. We want to ask them, “What does this mean and what does this look like in your life?”
Shelby: We’ve got to know. We’ve got to be intentional with the next generation in ways that previous generations didn’t have to do, and you know what? That doesn’t have to be a burden.
I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jared Kennedy on FamilyLife Today. Jared’s written a book called A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender [go to: erlc.com/resource-library/e-books/a-parents-guide-to-teaching-your-children-about-gender]. Super timely, really, really helpful. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again that number is 800, “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
While you’re at FamilyLIfeToday.com, we’d love it if you’d partner with us and become part of the FamilyLife family. When you join us and give a donation online, we want to send you a thank you. That thank you will be a copy of Jordan Raynor’s book called The Word Before Work. Jordan was a guest earlier this week and he’s written a Monday through Friday devotional, but the devo actually goes all year long. It’s a year long study. Again, that book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at FamilyLife. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or give us a call at 800, “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” Or you can feel free to drop us something in the mail. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.
Now if you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today with Jared, and probably all of us know someone who needs to hear a conversation like the one we heard today, would you share it from wherever you get your podcasts? And while you’re there, you can really help others learn about FamilyLife Today by leaving us a review. We would love that.
Well tomorrow if you’ve been having trouble seeing eye to eye with your family, you’re going to want to tune in to Tim Muehlhoff and Rick Langer. They’re going to help us express deep convictions with our friends and family members, but do it in a way that’s simple and with empathy. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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