Ask SAFEWritten by Piper Stege Nelson
If you have a question for our experts, email email@example.com. Advice from this month’s Ask SAFE column comes from Randy Randolph with our Expect Respect team.
My five-year-old son wants to wear nail polish to school, but I’m worried that other kids will make fun of him. Should I let him express himself this way at school, or only let him have his nails painted at home?
This question comes down to gender stereotypes. To make sure your child doesn’t feel judged or alienated, keep in mind the type of language you use when talking about topics like assigned sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
The last thing you want to do is leave your child feeling like they are not good enough, not male enough/female enough, and wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” Rebecca Bigler, UT Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, has two great suggestions:
- One of the easiest ways to eliminate gender stereotypes is to avoid gendered language. That means talking about groups of people based on their commonalities. Use phrases like “people your age,” “kids,” “students,” and “teammates.”
- Whenever a child meets some resistance because their behavior challenges stereotypes, engage them as follows: “Some silly people don’t know that boys/girls _______ (state the specific behavior). If one of those people says something to you, what can you say to them to help them understand?”
With all that in mind, here are some questions to ask your child:
- “Are there any rules against wearing nail polish?”
- “Do other kids in your grade wear nail polish?”
If it’s against the rules, than talk to them about why it’s important to follow school rules. If they are the first one to wear nail polish to school, then you can talk them through the potential challenges and let them know that they will have your full support no matter what happens.
And be sure to let your child know that all of us make decisions about which parts of ourselves we share with everyone, what we share with some people, and what we keep private.
My son just started sixth grade and recently hinted that sometimes he feels more like a girl than a boy. How can I make sure I’m supportive and that my child feels comfortable talking to me about his (their?) identity?
It’s important to investigate the specific issues they are facing in order to avoid making assumptions.
Ask “Can you tell me more about what that means to you?”
Exploring this with them can really help you provide information, compassion, and support. For example, does it have to do with the types of people they identify with the most, the clothes that express them best, their romantic attractions, or something entirely different?
You can always use the Gender Unicorn to help them open up and give you both the vocabulary for ongoing conversations. As always, it’s important to express gratitude that they are sharing with you and that you may need to work together to figure out the kind of support they need from you.
The principal at my 17-year-old daughter’s school informed me that my daughter has recently been bullied for being in a relationship with another girl at school. My daughter hasn’t told me she is in a relationship or about her sexuality. How do I bring it up to her?
Focus on the bullying issue, but don’t pretend that you don’t know why it’s happening.
You could start the conversation by asking your daughter if she’s alright at school. She might say, “it’s cool” or, “it’s okay, I guess.” If she does, let her know that the school told you about her being bullied.
Don’t mention the reason. Instead, let your daughter control what she wants to share about her relationship or if she identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. She may not be ready to come out to her family and bringing it up can make her feel embarrassed or betrayed by her peers.
Focus on reassuring your daughter that you care about her and are worried about her safety.
Hopefully, she’ll share everything that’s going on at school, but if she doesn’t, you can still brainstorm with her about how she can deal with the bullying. This can include identifying people at school who she can go to for support, documenting/staying aware of any further incidents, and reassuring her that she can always come to you for help with anything that is troubling her.
About Expect Respect and this month’s advice
SAFE’s Expect Respect program is a comprehensive, school-based program that promotes healthy relationships, mobilizes youth leaders and creates safer and more welcoming schools. One of the unique features of Expect Respect is our focus on helping young people explore all aspects of their identity. The advice given above is based on how we work with young people to investigate, support, and affirm them through this exploration in order to combat the issues that arise from attitudes, beliefs, and actions.
Our Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble leaders (Special thanks to Laurence Thigpen!) contributed to this month’s advice.