“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
From day one of being a mom, I was so excited to nurture my little girl. I wanted to give her the world! I thought the least I could do would be to give her the food she needed to develop well. And I knew my “liquid gold” would be the best thing to help my baby girl grow healthy and strong.
Breastfeeding has so many benefits, both for baby and for mom. But what people don’t usually talk about is the fact that it can be really, really hard.
Now after nursing two kids, I’ve realized that it’s not all that different from marriage. Here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. It’s hard.
Yes, breastfeeding is natural and good. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! There are all sorts of things to adjust to, especially at the beginning. Breastfeeding can bring sore nipples, engorged breasts, a crazy feeding schedule, and more. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, more challenges come!
Similarly, marriage is natural and good. We want to be with someone we love in a secure relationship. But just like breastfeeding, marriage can be hard too! Marriage means there’s someone else to coordinate with, and odds are there will sometimes be misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Like breastfeeding, there are difficulties and things to adjust to in married life, both at the beginning and all along the way.
2. It’s good for you.*
Pediatricians agree that breastfeeding is so good for a baby’s development. Breast milk naturally has the nutrients, calories, and antibodies your baby needs to be healthy! It also creates a healthy bond, probably in part because mom and baby have to work together to figure it out.
Marriage, like breastfeeding, definitely has its benefits! People who are married are more likely to live longer and be happier. And like breastfeeding, being married allows you to grow closer to the one you love as you work through the difficulties that naturally arise.
3. It’s individual.
Every new mom has different challenges, because her body and baby’s body are unique. Not only that, but those challenges will likely change over time. For example, my baby girl used to fall asleep all the time while eating. When she got older, she stayed awake but got distracted easily. These individual challenges, however, gave us great opportunities to work together and grow.
Just like every mom and baby is different, each marriage has both unique challenges and solutions. Basic principles can help both with breastfeeding and marriage, but ultimately, the two of you have to figure it out. So work together to find what helps you get through the hard times and really enjoy the sweet blessings that come.
Don’t give up!
With my first child especially, there were days when I was tempted to give up on breastfeeding, to throw in the towel and give her formula instead. But I’m so grateful my little girl and I were able to learn and grow together.
Maybe there are times when you want to give up on your marriage, when you think it’s just not worth the effort anymore. But don’t give up! Don’t give in! You may find that it is working through those difficulties that makes your marriage even sweeter.
*Disclaimer: For various reasons, some moms or babies may not be able or choose not to breastfeed. The same is true for marriage. This article is in no way trying to put down those who don’t breastfeed, or those who get divorced/don’t marry. Everyone’s situation is different.
Author’s note: I originally wrote this article while I was breastfeeding my first child. Nursing child number two was a lot easier (partly because he was easier, partly because of what I’d already learned). But I found that these principles still hold true for both breastfeeding and marriage.
Elizabeth Warner, Content Manager
Elizabeth Warner graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is married to a wonderful man, and together they have two delightful kids. When she’s not busy changing diapers or teaching her daughter to read, she enjoys exercise & nutrition, hand lettering, and writing.
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.
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
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.
Growing up in a family with 9 kids — 8 girls and 1 boy — my dad did everything he could to meet our needs and to keep us safe. When I was young, my dad would go around the house late at night after everyone was home to lock the doors. This is just one simple way my dad worked to keep his family secure and protected. I felt safe, cared for, and even more importantly, deeply loved when my dad was around.
His influence on me and our family was profound. He was kind, involved and worked hard to provide for and protect our family. He strove for continual improvement in his life and loved my mother fiercely. I couldn’t be more grateful for my dad. Can’t you just see how much he loves his family in the photo below?
Unfortunately, the scenario I grew up in is not the reality for a large number of children growing up in the world today. And I know there are many amazing single moms among us raising their children to the best of their ability. However, this circumstance is not the ideal for families. Research shows that children thrive best with a mother and a father to care for and raise them. Children with involved dads do better emotionally, socially, and academically than kids without dads around.
The Problem with Fatherlessness
Unfortunately, fathers’ influence in the home, community, and world is rapidly diminishing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.7 million children, more than 1 in 4, live without a father in the home. As fatherlessness becomes more and more commonplace, you may be tempted to ask, “Is it really that big of a deal?” The answer is a resounding YES! And here’s why.
Fatherlessness is at the root of what drives so many problems with kids growing up in the world today. Research shows that kids who grow up without dads at home are much more likely to engage in behaviors that are detrimental to themselves and to society.
Without a father in the home, children are:
Twice as likely to drop out of high school
More likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
Four times more likely to live in poverty
Seven times more likely to have a teen pregnancy
The evidence is clear that having a strong and stable father or father-figure in the home leads to strong children, families and communities.
One Solution: Watchdog Dads
Not only do we need dads at home, but we need them in the community as well. In 2012, I served as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) president for my children’s elementary school. While serving, I learned about a program called (Watch D.O.G.S (Dads of Great Students) and decided to bring it to our school.
It was amazing to see the difference this program made in the school and community. Each week dads would volunteer to help around the school and in the classroom. Seeing dads (or grandpas or uncles) participate on a daily basis was incredible! The kids loved seeing that father figure (or even their own dad) wearing his watchdog t-shirt with pride, walking down the halls, smiling and giving all the kids high fives. Students would follow him around as if these dads were rock stars—and they practically were!
Kids would line up to sit by him at lunch, beg for his assistance in the classroom and light up when they saw him as they came and left for school each day. Everyone wanted the “dad” on their team at recess. Every day I noticed that the Watchdog Dad was a force for good! These Watchdog Dads showed people at school and in the community just how important fathers and father-figures really are.
What Can We Do?
We can no longer casually sit on the sidelines. This issue is real and important! We can and should promote fatherhood in our homes and communities. Here are some ways to make a difference and get involved:
We need to praise and support fathers in their fathering. As the dads around us step up to their roles as fathers, we must look to their example and honor the gift of fatherhood. We must also help fathers take their place in our homes and communities. Having a father in the home is a great thing, but we need fathers who are actively involved in their children’s lives, who set a good example for them, who livehonorably, who provide for physical and emotional needs, who participate in the home with loving authority, and who protect their children in every way he can.
While the number of fatherless homes is devastating, the goal is not to merely have dads home. We’re not just saying, “Let’s get dads back in homes.” We’re saying, “Let’s get dads doing good fathering.”
The saying goes that kids don’t come with an instruction manual. Yet thankfully for today’s dads, there’s no shortage of fabulous resources to support fathers. If you’re a dad that’s sitting on the sidelines, jump in and take your place as a father! For the rest of us, our job is to cheer these dads on in their efforts to become present and improved fathers. As we do our part to promote and strengthen fatherhood, we’re strengthening the entire family, the community, and the world.
For more information on the importance of fathers, check out fatherhood.org for statistics, research, and resources.
Meet the Author
Amy Chariton is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Marriage and Family Studies and following graduation wants to pursue a master’s degree in Marriage and Family therapy. She is married to her sweetheart of 20 amazing years. They have 4 kids who are her whole world. Her hobbies are trail running, hiking, backpacking and anything in the Utah mountains.
50% of all children in the United States will witness a divorce between their parents. While it would be wonderful if every child could grow up in a home with two loving parents, that’s sadly not reality today. However, divorce doesn’t immediately result in the end of a child’s happiness or success.
Divorce is not a decision that should be taken lightly. No matter the situation, divorce will have an impact on both the parents and their children. Nevertheless, in some cases kids are actually better off because of how the marital relationship affected them prior to the parental split. And as parents, there are multiple ways you can help your child adjust to make the transition smoother.
Staying Together Isn’t Always the Best Solution
Many parents who consider getting a divorce worry that this decision will completely ruin their children and their future. And their fears are somewhat justified when one considers the research showing the negative effects that divorce can have on children. Because of this fear, some parents might think that for the kids, it’ll be better if mom and dad just “tough it out.” However, choosing to stay together no matter what may actually do more harm than good.
If divorce is on the table, parents will need to juggle the financial and emotional effects the decision will have on the family. Mild depression, anxiety, and anger are common responses among children with divorced parents. On the other hand, divorce is an important option to protect a spouse or kids from toxic relationships.
Because of the toll that divorce can take on the spouses involved, let alone a whole family, many parents just drop the idea completely. Of course, when marital problems arise and divorce is coming into the picture, it doesn’t mean that divorce has to be the answer.
Marriage therapy, personal counseling, and honest conversations about what the actual problems are (e.g. pride and self-centeredness) rather than the symptoms (e.g. communication style or personality differences) can be incredibly beneficial.
Before making the huge decision of whether or not you should get divorced, one should first do some very honest self-reflection — especially with the help of a licensed therapist. Dr. William J. Doherty, a marriage and family therapist and professor of family social science, explains that licensed therapists can “challenge both you and your spouse about your contributions to the problems and your capacity to make individual changes to resolve the problems.” Reflecting on your personal contributions to the relationship will not only benefit you as an individual, but it will benefit your relationship as a whole.
While getting professional help is an important step, it’s also important to remember that you can’t change someone else. True change can only happen if it originates from within. If a relationship isn’t evolving because changes are not being made, divorce may be the result.
Choosing To Divorce
Now, let’s suppose that you end up choosing to get a divorce. The change is going to hurt no matter what the situation is, because you and your children now have to adapt to a new normal.
However, this huge change doesn’t have to ruin your kids. In fact, according to one study, “there is some evidence to suggest that the majority of children whose parents divorced are not indistinguishable from their peers whose parents remained married.”
Scores of studies have found that children form habits quickly by watching and observing those around them. If a child’s parents are displaying a verbally or physically abusive relationship, that child won’t know the difference between the parental relationship they witnessed and a healthy relationship.
While a divorce will be difficult for the children, the changes that children experience aren’t all negative. For example, children who are no longer exposed to constant arguing, verbal or physical abuse, or unstable communication between their parents will be relieved and greatly benefited in their future. Additionally, according to child development experts, children have a built in “resiliency mechanism” that helps them to learn and bounce back from difficult circumstances with the right kind of help.
One of my best friends had an experience in which her parents got divorced when she was seven years old. I was curious about how the divorce impacted her and her family. So, I reached out to her for an interview.
Me: Looking back now, what do you think influenced the decision to get a divorce?
Emily: Growing up my father was very neglectful towards me, my mother, and my brother. Because of this, my mother decided that she wanted a divorce.
Me: At the time, how did your family process the divorce? What decisions did your parents make in hopes of making it a reasonable decision?
Emily: My mom allowed my brother and I to choose the amount of involvement we had with my dad. At the beginning of the divorce I spent weekends and every other Wednesday with him and then we rotated holidays. So if I spent Thanksgiving with my mom I spent Christmas with my dad, and vice versa. I wanted to see my dad as often as I could because I wanted to still have a relationship with him, but there were multiple times when he wouldn’t show up or he’d bail before I came. So, then I started reducing my visits to once a week. Unfortunately my dad could never move past his neglectful habits, and eventually I stopped doing in-person visits all together and instead we did phone calls and emails. However, about seven years ago my father just stopped replying all together, so now I’ve completely lost all contact with him.
Me: Lastly, how has your parents’ divorce influenced both you and your brother?
Emily: It allowed both of us to have complete control and it helped me to establish my self worth not only as a daughter, but as a person. If they hadn’t divorced, I would’ve been forced to suffer my dad’s neglect and I believe it would have greatly damaged my self esteem and my idea of what healthy love looks like.
How Can I Help My Child?
If you and your spouse decide that divorce is the answer, it’s possible to help your child(ren) through every step to make the new situation sustainable. Here are a few ways you can make it easier for your kids:
Provide emotional support
Have open and honest conversations about how your child is feeling
Prepare yourself for tough conversations
Ask your child how they’re doing on a regular basis
By doing this, you will create an appropriate outlet that allows your children to express their emotions in a healthy way. Many adolescents seek out alcohol and drugs if their emotional needs aren’t being met, so building a loving and healthy relationship between you and your child is key.
Although most divorce is avoidable and unnecessary, at times it can be the best option. In some cases divorce may be better for the entire family if things are beyond repair and the family climate is incredibly toxic. Every child deserves to dwell in a home where healthy relationships are present so that in the future, they can develop healthy relationships of their own.
Makayla Whetsel is a sophomore at Brigham Young University-Idaho studying Marriage and Family Studies. She will be serving an LDS mission before returning to school to receive her degree and certificates. In the coming years, she plans to focus in the field of social work to assist both children and adults.