Affirm Mental Health and Parental Rights Instead of Life-Altering Gender Transformations

“My breasts were beautiful, now they’ve been incinerated for nothing. Thank you, modern medicine.” These were Chloe Cole’s words as she testified before the Florida Board of Medicine Legislative Committee in October 2022.

Chloe shared her experience of transitioning and de-transitioning. She said, “From a young age I was actually quite a very feminine girl, though I did somewhat model myself after my older brothers.” But she began to question her identity, and at 13, was given a regimen of puberty blockers and testosterone. Two years later, she had a double mastectomy. At 16, she said, “I came to realize I severely regretted my transition.”

The issues of gender dysphoria and transitioning teens are becoming more common. A recent study showed that nearly 1 in 5 people who identify as transgender in the United States is between the ages of 13-17. Anyone who has parented or been involved in the life of a teen knows the volatility that comes with this age. There are many theories as to why there has been an increase in teens experiencing gender confusion. One study suggested the “possibility of social influences and maladaptive coping mechanisms.” In other words, it is possible that teens are identifying as transgender because they see others doing it and/or are just having difficulty handling life’s challenges.

Dr. Samuel Veissière authored an article in Psychology Today addressing some of these concerns. He encouraged parents, educators, and clinicians to proceed with caution in dealing with the phenomenon of “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), a term coined by Dr. Lisa Littman, a behavioral science professor at Boston University. The term rapid-onset should give pause when considering potentially harmful measures to change one’s gender, especially when considering the teenage mind. My 16-year-old son chose months before his birthday to have steak for his celebratory dinner, but the week of the event chose something else. A simple example that teens are often indecisive.

Because teens are going through such a tumultuous time, parental support is essential to helping them navigate these stormy waters. Sadly, parental rights are being taken away when counseling their children with gender dysphoria. Some courts are ruling in favor of children receiving transitioning therapy, despite parental disapproval for moral or religious reasons. Washington state recently passed legislation allowing children to receive gender transition care without parental permission.

One mother shared the pain she experienced watching her daughter go through “affirmative care,” the practice of clinicians following the child’s lead in transitioning. She pleaded for “common sense and compassion” to allow parents to advocate for their children’s health. Gender-affirming care is being touted as “life-saving“, and the “benefits outweigh the risks.” Preventing suicide is an outcome we can all agree on, but at what cost? What are the long-term effects of taking hormonal therapy or surgically altering the body? Is affirmative care addressing the root cause of the pain, anxiety, and depression these kids are feeling? Chloe Cole would tell you no.

As a mother of six children, I take my responsibility and right seriously to guide and nurture them, especially during challenging times in their lives. To instead, be left to watch a child undergo transformative therapy because a clinician feels it is in their best interest brings out the mama-bear-fight inside every mother. What can we do to protect our kids from becoming victims to those looking to override our role as advocates and protectors of our children? Let me offer three suggestions to empower parents in these roles:

  1. Be there for your kids! If “social influences and maladaptive coping mechanisms” are contributing to gender dysphoria, know who and what is influencing your family. Understand the pull of social media in teens’ lives. Find out what is stressing your kids. Communicate with them; ask questions. If they are struggling with anxiety or depression, help them find tools to cope, and if necessary, seek professional help.
  2. If seeking professional help, find clinicians that align with your values or religious beliefs and who will respect your role as a parent. Seek someone who recognizes the potential harm of gender-affirming care and will work with your family to find the root cause of the anguish your child is feeling.
  3. Fight to protect the rights of parents. Become educated about the political process. Develop relationships with your local and state officials. Elect those who will defend the family. Attend school board meetings and know the policies in your district that pertain to parental rights. In Idaho, parents are writing resolutions supporting the right as parents to be the primary stakeholders in their children’s education and upbringing. These resolutions are being presented to school boards and political parties, with the hope that state leaders will pass legislation defending this right.

Chloe Cole’s blunt testimony against gender-affirming care might be difficult for some to hear, but it is courageous voices like hers that can draw attention to help those with gender dysphoria get the mental health and support they need. And parents have the right to be by their child’s side guiding them through this process.

Mandy Baker is a Marriage and Family Studies major at Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is a mother and grandmother, residing in Burley, Idaho. She serves as a school board trustee in her community.

The Polluted Pond of Pop-Culture Dating: What is unhealthy dating and how can it be improved?

Many of you may be wondering why in the title of this article pop-culture dating is so bad tat it has to be compared to a polluted pond or a picture of a dead fish.That will be explained as this article goes on, but first, ponder this:

Does a fish that has lived in polluted water its entire life know that it is in polluted water? In other words, does the fish need to swim in clean water to know about pollution?? As you think of this analogy, reflect on your own dating experiences for a minute. How was it overall? What kinds of activities did you do? Was your experience mostly positive or negative? These questions might lead you to think back on some hilariously awkward, stressful, or anxiety-provoking situations that you felt during those times. I have plenty of dating experiences myself that fit that description, especially as a current college student. In my experience, people–or maybe it’s just college students–do not know how to date.
During my first three semesters of college, I was not asked on one date, just “hangouts”. When I did end up going on dates–because I caved in and downloaded a dating app–it felt as if I was only there to provide physical touch for guys that craved it. No bueno. It was so stressful and I started to despise going on dates and “hangouts” disguised as dates. It was clear that the dating culture I was suddenly immersed in was no longer about doing fun things and getting to know a wide variety of guys, it had now become people using one another fulfilling their wants masquerading as “needs”. Regardless of how each of us views our past dating experiences, think of how the current dating culture might impact young people today–especially your own children. How might it affect their relationships 20 years from now? How is this polluted dating culture affecting your relationships now?

According to the Pew Research Center, most people in the dating scene are not satisfied and think finding a significant other has gotten even harder today than it was in the past. Of those that are currently dating, 67% said that overall, their dating is not going well. Only 33% of daters in the study say that their dating is going very or fairly well overall (see chart).

So how did we get here? How did dating become something so negative? And why do we even still do it?

Unless you are Patrick Star and live under a rock at the bottom of the sea, you have probably noticed–especially on college campuses today–the popular terms of “hanging out” and “hooking up.” Hanging out is essentially watered-down dating without intention or purpose. Monto and Carey (2014) specify that hooking up is “a pattern involving transitory sexual interactions between partners who have no expectation of a continued romantic relationship or sexuality outside of a committed relationship.” In other words, hooking up is:

Sex without strings and relationships without rings.

For most people, especially those engaging in these activities, this phenomenon might not seem like such a bad thing. However, many studies have found that casual sex and the hang-out/hook-up culture can increase psychological distress, anxiety, depression, in addition to “[lowered] self-esteem and reduced life satisfaction” (Napper et al., 2016). I don’t know about you, but these outcomes do not sound very appealing. I personally have experienced these negative outcomes in my own life and can see them in the lives of my peers.

The Polluted Waters

Now back to the fish in polluted water. As you’ve probably already guessed, we young people are the fish and this toxic dating culture is the polluted water. Figuratively speaking, some of us have only ever known polluted water. And just like the fish, if you’re in this toxicity long enough, it can be harmful to your overall health. But there is hope! We can clean the “dating water” we are in and break the cycle creating a new environment for ourselves and our relationships. But how?

 

Using Dr. Jon Van Epp’s Relationship Attachment Model (RAM), we can gain some insight into good and healthy dating attitudes and habits. The RAM model (see image) is built with five sliders that are labeled: know, trust, rely, commit, and touch. Each of these are important components of any and all relationships. Dr. Van Epp explains in his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk that each slider should be slightly lower than the previous one…in ascending order. This simply means, it is important to know someone more than you trust them; and to trust them more than you rely on them; and to rely on them more than you are committed to them; and to commit to them more than your amount of physical touch.

The dating culture today–which is generating more emotional and mental health problems–is more of a “Relationship Detachment Model.” Physical touch is often the highest slider, rather than one’s knowledge of and trust in the person with whom they are having sex.

Essentially, research has discovered that healthy dating (i.e., clean water) follows this model and helps to build stable and satisfying relationships that can then enhance future families and society as a whole.

If more of us follow this model, especially in high school or college, the dating waters will be clean and individuals and couples will thrive, both in these dating stages and later on in marriage or with our families. The principles of the RAM have changed me and the way I approach dating for the better! I strongly encourage you to read How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, incorporate its ideas, and teach others to do the same.

Sydney Stratton is from Lubbock, Texas, and is a junior in Marriage and Family Studies at Brigham Young University – Idaho. She is currently the Vice President of the Child and Family Advocacy Society on campus.

What Chance Will You Give Yourself?

Ghosts From My Mother’s Past

My mother, Debbie Madsen*, was ten years old when she first began to recognize the heartbreaking changes that would come into her life from having an alcoholic father. In a small town in southern Idaho, Bobby and Debbie were the best of friends. They spent their childhood passing through the doors of one another’s homes. That is, until the day Bobby passed out of Debbie’s home one final time, with the vow never to return rolling off his young lips.

My grandfather was one of the kindest, sweetest, and most thoughtful men you’d ever meet, but only when he was sober. Drinking turned him into the worst of the worst; in went the booze and out went Dr. Jekyll. And on this fateful night, Bobby was around when the evil Hyde had full reign in the Madsen home.

When dinner was served, Debbie left Bobby to wait for her in their playroom, doodling on the chalkboard. On the other side of the wall was the Madsen’s dining room. Unfortunately, what Bobby and Debbie didn’t know was that the sound made by the chalk every time Bobby drew would be heard through the thin wall. Every innocent stroke of the chalk caused darkness to gather in my inebriated grandfather. And eventually, my loving grandfather was gone once more. In his place was an angry and hateful Hyde.

Through the thin walls, Hyde began to drunkenly and loudly question the “sounds of a mouse” in the next room. Hyde’s loud, abrasive questioning led him to express possible ways to terrorize and then terminate the “mouse” into silence. Regardless of the implied threats against her dear friend, Debbie still kept quiet; she knew what was best. Alcoholic homes have unspoken rules and they all obeyed them.

As soon as she was excused, Debbie dashed to the playroom and found Bobby with an ashen countenance, deathly quiet, and stricken immobile from fear. Wordlessly, Debbie ushered Bobby out of her house. That night, as Bobby silently passed out of the Madsen home one last time, it was a sense of relief that flooded through Debbie; Bobby was safe.

The next day on the way to school, on the sidewalk in between their homes, Bobby told Debbie he would never step foot in her house again. And he didn’t. As the years continued to go by, Debbie passed less and less through the doors of Bobby’s home. Her life and the secrets it held required more managing, along with the addition of more unspoken family rules that demanded obedience. Eventually, Bobby slowly became a distant, sorrowful memory for my mother.

Bobby and Debbie

Lessons for Today From My Mother’s Past

There are many things my mother wasn’t aware of then that she understands now. While the demands of society during those decades required secrecy, she had never been the only child learning how to deal with an alcoholic parent. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that 7.5 million (10.5 percent) of children aged 17 or younger live in a household with at least one parent who has an alcohol use disorder. As my mother has aged, her feelings of shame and embarrassment have abated as she’s been able to recognize that there is strength in numbers.

Additionally, there are two prongs to the perpetuation of substance use disorders in a family system. The first prong is intimate exposure to substance abuse. The Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse has reported that children who are raised in a home with a substance-dependent parent have a much higher likelihood of becoming substance abusers themselves. As a result, the family history of the substance abuse cycle takes root and the second prong is born. In research published by Addictive Behaviors, findings show that a family history of substance use disorders creates an unhealthy cycle in family systems that make it hard for children of substance abusers to break. So, the cycle goes on, from one generation to the next.

My mother was too young at the time to notice the other extended members of her family who were alcoholics, too. Her paternal grandmother, great-uncles, and great-aunt all struggled with it to varying degrees. Because of our strong family history of alcoholism, the proclivity to become an alcoholic runs deep within our veins.

Creating Your Own Chance

Now, these two strikes against my grandfather make it seem as though he didn’t have a fighting chance. An alcoholic he was doomed to be…right? The reality, though, is that we all have a chance. We all have a choice. We all have a hand in the creation of what roles we play in our family system. My mother has never had a drink and neither have I. She refused to continue the cycle of substance abuse in her own family of creation, and I am determined to do the same in mine. My mother is strong, resolute, and brave, and I am grateful.

The seemingly insignificant yet sincere invitation I extended to my mother asking her to share the delicate and heartbreaking experiences from her youth opened a dialogue that had previously been closed. With open dialogue, families are empowered. Mental health and healing can be prioritized. Trusted support, professionally and socially, outside of a dysfunctional family system can be found for the substance abuser and their loved ones. What hard questions are you willing to ask so that healing dialogue can happen?

Knowledge matters. Knowledge gives directed courses of action that enable the protection and strengthening of future generations. What ghost stories from your own family’s past need to be shared so that you can help others? I didn’t know it all, but I knew enough to ask. What cycles are you strong enough to not only recognize but also break? Because you do have a chance, even if the only way to get it is by creating it yourself.

(*Name has been changed)

 

References

Acheson, A., Vincent, A. S., Cohoon, A. J., & Lovallo, W. R. (2018). Defining the phenotype of young adults with family histories of alcohol and other substance use disorders: Studies from the family health patterns project. Addictive Behaviors, 77, 247–254. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.10.014

American Addiction Centers. (2021). Children of alcoholics: The impacts of alcoholics on kids. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/children

SAMHSA. (2017). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Children living with parents who have a substance abuse disorder. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/children-living-parents-who-have-substance-use-disorder

Tarter, R. E., Schultz, K., Kirisci, L., & Dunn, M. (2001). Does living with a substance abusing father increase substance abuse risk in male offspring? Impact on individual, family, school, and peer vulnerability factors. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, 10(3), 59–70. https://doi.org/10.1300/J029v10n03_04

 

About the Author

Rebecca Whittaker has an Associate of Applied Science in Marriage and Family Studies, a Marriage, Family, and Human Relations Certificate, and an Advanced Marriage and Family Functioning Certificate. She is currently working on completing her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies through Brigham Young University-Idaho online. The majority of her time as a single mom is spent either homeschooling her three children, furthering her own education, fantasizing about the time she used to have to read at leisure, or relishing an ice-cold soda while soaking up the sun.

 

Working Together for the Best Sex Ed

 

The Public School’s Approach

It was the first week of middle school for 12- year- old Maddie. She was excited, but nervous to start the adventure of middle school. Just as the tardy bell rang, Maddie slid into her seat at the front of the class. The class began with the ordinary introduction of material, including a “getting to know you” survey.  As she filled out the survey, Maddie was surprised to see a question asking students which pronouns they preferred. The survey also asked if the school could share that information with their parents.

Across the street, high-schoolers were being presented with a worksheet entitled, “The Gender Unicorn.” The worksheet was supposed to teach students about the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and physical vs. emotional attraction. In a school that requires parent signatures for watching movies rated anything over PG, gender education was taking place without parental consent or knowledge. 

The Debate: Moral vs. Secular 

With the introduction of the Equality Act, incorporating sex and gender education in schools became a hotly debated topic. Of course, there are strong arguments for both sides of the issue, and the debate has left many communities divided. Educators are being asked to teach about a topic that covers both secular and moral principles. On the other hand, parents are mad about being left in the dark when it comes to the sex education of their children. 

Our country is at a crossroads when it comes to the gender and sex education of our children. Whatever your views on gender and sexuality, our children are growing up in a society that includes pronouns and genders beyond he/she, male/female. Carrie Hunt clearly stated the issue when she said, “what once brought purpose, clarity, definition and identity to a child both individually and socially, now comes in so many varieties that many children struggle to find their grounding.” 

What Can We Do?

So how do we help children find their footing? Should schools continue to push such education without parental consent in the name of protecting and leading children? Should parents try to shelter their kids from such education because only two genders really exist?

It seems the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Having a healthy understanding of sexuality and gender is crucial to finding purpose, clarity, and identity in life. Because of this, it’s important for children to receive some form of education on the topic. Parents and educators tend to see eye to eye on this. Over 93 % of parents feel that sex education is important for their middle and high school students. And 33 states have emphasized the importance of sex education by mandating it for public schools. The division then comes down to the lack of curriculum transparency between the school and parents. Surprisingly, only 5 of the 33 states that mandate sex education require parental consent in order for children to receive instruction. 

Even though parents want their kids to learn about sex, many families fail to teach their children in the home. Data shows that this vital instruction is not occurring often enough. Maybe this is because parents don’t know  how to appropriately broach these topics with their children. That being said, national surveys find that nearly all teenagers have received sex education by the age of 18. Where do they get this education? Through public schools. Since gender and sexuality education isn’t happening in the majority of homes, public educators have taken upon themselves the role of teaching kids about sex. 

Schools & Parents Working Together

For the most part, we can agree that parents and educators have the child’s best interest in mind. While parents are generally responsible for instilling moral values and religious beliefs in their children, schools are responsible for teaching secular subjects. But gender and sexuality education encompasses both secular and moral teachings. 

Because of this, the best solution involves clearly defining the boundary between the two. With the ever-changing terms and ideas children encounter, schools should first and foremost encourage parents to be the preeminent voice in teaching their kids about sex. In addition, parents and schools must work together to decide on appropriate sex education curriculum. As parents and schools work together to establish an honest, transparent relationship, they will be able to clearly define the line between public sex education and private sex education. This open and transparent communication is vital in order to teach sex education in a way that allows our children to find purpose, clarity, and identity both at home and at school.

Laura Ellis is a Junior at BYU-Idaho studying Marriage, Family, and Human Relations. As a mother of eight, she is passionate about child and family advocacy. She has actively worked within her community to help change policies that threaten children and the family.

7 Tips for Fighting Pornography’s Harms in Your Home

When my son was about 8 years old, he quietly knocked on the door of our bedroom one night. We invited him in, and I could sense his unease. “Mommy, I think I did something bad.” The tears began to flow as we scooped him up and inquired over his supposed misdeed. “I was watching a music video and I saw a man’s bum. It was naked. I’m so sorry”. He believed he had viewed pornography. He was a sobbing mess, but my mommy-heart melted over the admission because we have always been honest in our home about the damaging effects of pornography. This meant it had sunk into his little mind and heart. Even a naked bum sent his conscience reeling. He believed he had viewed pornography. And he was right, accidental as it was. 

The Problem with Pornography

While this event might seem minor in the grand scheme of what could have been available to my son in the world of pornography, it’s still no small matter. It’s a rare occasion that users of pornography jump straight to “hard-core porn”. It usually starts inadvertently and small: a naked rear, for example. Most exposure happens early, with the average first age of exposure at 8 years old. One Australian study reports that by age 14, nearly 94% of youth have seen pornography. This is troublesome on many levels. This is a crucial developmental period when an under-developed prefrontal cortex makes children and youth less capable of making rational decisions. My son fit the demographics to a tee, and we count ourselves blessed that he had the good sense to look away and come talk to us. 

Many of you, like me, are parents with unsuspecting, innocent children. You love them, care for them, and want what’s best for them. You’d do anything to protect them. But the pornography industry is crafty. They don’t care about protecting your children. Your children are seen as potential consumers for their product. And they will do anything to hook them. Pornography is nicely packaged these days. A popular magazine, lyrics of a catchy song, popup ads, or a music video. It’s easier than ever for your child to be exposed and hooked. 

Some argue the benefits of porn. Such benefits include sexual education, sexual satisfaction, and sexual release. But the other side of the coin speaks volumes when correlations are linked to rape, aggression, sex-trafficking, infidelity, divorce, among others.

Think it would never happen in your home or that your child has never been exposed? Think again. A recent report by the BBFC reports that while 75% of parents believe their children have never seen porn, 53% of those children actually have. Your children could be among those. 

How You Can Protect Your Family

While those numbers can be discouraging, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do something about it. And it doesn’t mean that accidental exposure inevitably leads to a pornography addiction. My son is proof that with the right kind of education and action, we can feel secure that our children will make the right decisions in those moments. We can take charge in our homes today to protect our children against pornography exposure and its damaging effects. Here are seven things that have worked for our family:

1. Do the talking before someone else does. 

The pornography industry is eager to get to your children before you do. Don’t give them the satisfaction. If pornography exposure starts early, then talking needs to start early.

2. Make home a safe space to talk.

Our kids know that they can ask us anything without unfair reaction or judgement. Children need to know that they can have their questions answered lovingly and honestly. If your child has a question, let them ask and then do your best to answer. If you don’t know, say so, and schedule a time to talk again once you’ve found answers. Keep your word and follow up. Parent-child communication is key to opening up about these hard issues. 

3. The discussion about pornography must be ongoing. 

I cringe when I hear parents say that they’ve successfully given their children “the talk.” This is not a “one and done” event. Discussing important things like sex and pornography must be ongoing. Your children are growing and developing. This includes their understanding of and curiosity about pornography. Keep talking.

4. Set rules as a family. 

We found that our children are more likely to keep rules that they help make. We also found that they are more willing to make rules when they understand the why behind needing them. Tell them how damaging pornography can be. Then trust them to help you make rules to keep the family safe. They will surprise you!

5. Have a healthy dialogue about dating, marriage, love, and sex. 

Pornography distorts a child’s view of what real love is. Pornography teaches a child to objectify another person. When parents talk positively and honestly about dating, marriage, love, and sex, we teach them that people are for loving in real ways. Sex is an expression of that love and is most satisfying within a devoted relationship. There is no room for pornography in a healthy relationship because it teaches us that people are to be used instead of loved. 

6. Talk about your body and the bodies of others in uplifting, positive ways. 

Pornography will challenge the self-esteem of a person because of its ability to distort the reality of the human body. Let them know how beautiful and amazing the human body is and that it should be treated with respect. Bodies are not perfect and come in all shapes and sizes. Speak kindly about your body and the bodies of others.  

7. Watch for warning signs. 

Is your child unusually stressed, tired, depressed, secretive, and removed? While this might indicate many different types of problems, it might also be time to ask about and reevaluate their digital habits. They may be struggling with pornography. Be supportive and ready to help.

Keeping Kids Safe 

I know these steps have helped in our home. My son, now 13, is a happy and healthy teenager. He uses his devices in the family room because this is a rule he helped make. He knows it keeps him safe. He knows that if something does happen, he can always come talk to my husband or I because our home is a safe space. My son knows that his body is a gift and that it should be respected. He knows that the bodies of others should be respected. He knows that real relationships are built on love and trust. Above all, he knows that we love him and that we’re proud of the person he’s becoming. He knows that pornography holds no place in becoming the man he wants to be. While we can’t safeguard our children completely, these small steps can help continue the battle against pornography. 

Guest Blogger: Sarah Fairbanks

Guest Blogger: Sarah Fairbanks

Sarah Fairbanks is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is majoring in Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Human Services. She will graduate in December 2021. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three children.