The events that have taken place in the past few months have showed us one more time that hatred and homophobia are still an insoluble problem for our society. Radical groups are continuing to spread false information and mislead people, and the most powerful weapon for them are minors.
Here’s an interview with a psychologist Maia Tsiramua that will tell us what stages a child goes through before adulthood, how a parent should help in the development of correct and healthy attitudes, what age we should start talking about sexuality with our children, how to protect them from hatred and homophobia and how to give them information about LGBTQ in a way not to scare or harm the children.
We can start conversations about sexuality with a child at quite a young age. It is important to take into account that at different stages these conversations play a different role for the child. The first time when it is crucial for a parent to talk to the child about sexuality is 3-4 years of age, when the child first starts leaving the house and takes their first steps into socialization (When they go to kindergarten or the yard to play). At this time, of course, it is extremely important to explain to the child what their private space is, which body parts count as intimate, who is allowed to touch them and who is not. We have to explain this in a way that the child doesn’t get scared, we have to teach them to take precautionary measures. And most importantly, they have to know that if someone attempts an undesirable contact, they must inform the parent.
After this, again at the age of 3-4 years, a child starts asking some philosophical questions and gets interested in where people come from. That’s why they ask how we are born, which often is perceived as a child being interested in a sexual life, and we have to answer their questions in a way that they can understand. To ease the communication, we can use examples of propagating plants, we can show them videos of how pistil is propagated. Every parent can find information on it and do all of this painlessly.
8-10-year-old children become interested in the topic of relationships between sexes. At this age they already identify themselves with a particular sex, know what sex is, who is of what sex, etc. Once this interest in the opposite sex relationships starts to take place children begin to show off what they know, how competent they are. This is the best time for the parent to talk to their children about the opposite-sex relationships. We, the adults, should be the first one to talk to the child before these interests arise and provide the information as clearly and academically as possible. We must also take into account that the Internet is full of false information and myths, and a child between the ages of 8 and 10 already has access to the Internet.
It is important for us to understand what sexuality means and not try to avoid this topic. Sexuality is a very broad and interesting concept, it’s not a scary concept. Sexuality involves a great deal of knowledge about the reproductive system, as well as sexual feelings, perceptions, communication, flirting, and a thousand other nuances – this term refers to self-exploration, self-knowledge, and the development of self-perception
When a child enters adolescence, it is necessary to equip them with detailed and accurate knowledge. This is because at this age begins an astonishing revolution in the child’s hormonal system, and at the same time very serious changes take place in the brain that becomes dominated by hormones that push us to engage in risky behavior, to get pleasure, to impulsivity. This is exactly why it is so important to have the information on what’s going on in our brain. Adolescent hypersexuality is very common at this age, which is especially active in boys, that is associated with fantasies, desires, and this can scare a child. In practice, I have often seen obsessive compulsive disorder in children of this age, when the feelings and thoughts of sexual nature come in a cascade, which makes you think that they are bad. At the same time, if we take into account that these topics are tabooed in our society, they think that something awful is going on with them, they perceive such thoughts as crime and as a result they suffer. We have to understand that this is not an easy mental state for a teenager to be in. That’s why it’s important for the child to have precise and academic information on what changes take place in a body, what changes in the communication, what type of communication can be the safest for them, especially when there are high risks for sexting.
Talking to children about sexuality will help them avoid many dangers. They will be more protected and their quality of life will be higher. They will be getting information on a myriad of topics themselves anyway, that’s why it’s important for us to be the first ones to talk to them and give them more precise information as they’re growing up.
We can’t protect the children from gender frameworks if we are not free of them ourselves, if the world is so easily divided – colors, roles, play, relationships – then it will be the same for our children. The stupidest thing is the division of emotions according to gender. When a little boy is scared, and as he’s crying he goes to his parents for help and they get angry with him, tell him that he shouldn’t cry because he’s a man. This is where the wrong upbringing and very difficult processes begin, such as forbidding girls to express anger.
According to a study, in those countries in which boys do not have to repress and hide such feelings as fear and weakness, there are very low numbers of gender-based abuse. We must let our children express their weakness, express their feelings. It is not necessary to put the ideas of toxic, poisonous masculinity in their heads. We must all agree to raise our children without it.
One boy told me that he used to be very empathetic and open as a child. He played football and was used to hug everyone, have a close relationship with everyone. Once he returned to the practice after a long pause and hugged the teacher and got a remark that he was hugging him like a girl, men shouldn’t act like that. After that something serious changed inside of me, I stopped letting my emotions out, became colder. It seems like not a big deal to just buy a blue shirt for a boy and a pink one for a girl, but such differentiations destroy us and this are exactly the type of behaviors that will at some point lead us to painful results in the future.
If there are any family members that are gay, trans, bisexual, I believe that we absolutely should tell the young family members about it. However, we need to be very careful about it and not show any signs of judgment and hatred toward that person. This is how we might harm the child – embody fear or hatred or just unhealthy interest.
At the age of 8-10, when the interest between the opposite-sex relationships has appeared, the child already has the resources to deal with that information. Especially in this day when it is already very easy to get information. Everyone has access to that information and that’s another reason why the child should get that information from a competent individual.
One of the most important things is what kind of message the child is receiving – what you are telling them, how are you telling them, to reject this people or the opposite, to accept them, support them, etc. This is crucial. A child can be informed about LGBTQ+ issues in a way that is harmful to them. For example, if they see that no one mentions it, but a member of the family is mistreated because of it, there’s too much conflict, they are often running away from home, this is already very precarious.
This is why it is important to tell them that there are gender differences, there are different sexualities and identities and we shouldn’t be afraid that that will affect them negatively, that no one can change anything about it. A very good prevention of homophobia is talking to the children on LGBTQ topics. If children know this from the childhood and have proper information, their future lives become free of hatred and fears toward the different.
Finding and discovering yourself is a very personal experience and the parent has nothing to do with it. What a parent can do at this time is not to interfere with the child in their search for the world and themselves, not to become a big barrier, to resist and try to accept them as they are. We must remember that it is very hard for a person to discover that their sexual desires differ from others. They feel lonely, abandoned and think that they are alone in it. This is also why it’s important to protect a person from those feelings and give them the correct information in time.
The parent’s perspective matters a lot. You cannot help your child if you are not ready to receive this information and accept your child as they are. There’s a lot of cases like this. I have been told by many young people that even though their parents are not kicking them out of the house, they are still not willing to accept them. A transgender woman has told me that her parents still choose to call her with her old name. She said that it ruins everything and she even prefers that they would kick her out of their house. It’s not an easy process for them either. In the same way that a person discovering that their orientation is different gets so many unanswered question, the parent’s feel like that.
One of the main things that stands in the way of a parent accepting their child is social pressure, fear that people will say that they are a bad parent, that they raised a bad child. If the parents manage to free themselves from this pressure, I am sure that they will only be supportive, help their children and be a wall to lean on. Many parents have told me that they know that they have an amazing kid, but I feel sorry for them to experience the lack of respect, physical assault that happens in the streets, and that’s why they ask them to have their hair differently, to be less or more masculine. They have told me so many times that they are afraid of the society, not their children.
In my opinion, schools should be actively working on these topics. For this there is an excellent resource – the subject of civic education in schools, which can be used to deliver information on LGBTQ community. Why can’t a literature teacher talk on this subject with students? There is so much literature out there that concerns this! I think that schools should take responsibility and prepare the children to be more accepting.
Last year I met with over 400 civic education teachers. My topic, among many others, was the anatomy of discriminatory behavior; They got even more in-depth information from another specialist about what identity is, what studies there are, what challenges these people face. The feedback was amazing – they said that a lot of things changed for them, many stereotypes were shattered, they already look at these topics differently, they approach students differently.
Many teachers have said that even though they would talk about this topics, they cannot go against the parents that are often against their children receiving this information and say that it’s not necessary since they themselves grew up without receiving any information. It is very important for every parent to take responsibility, especially when the state does not do anything, the educational system does not work on these topics, the school does not teach these topics.
There should be someone in a child’s life, at least one person, one supporter. If it can’t be a parent, it should be a teacher, friend or a neighbor. It is extremely important to free our society of this toxic phobias.
Author: Zura Abashidze