Risk, Comfort, and Transcendence in Gender-questioning Teens
Posted: September 17, 2018
There are many factors that seem to impact to the emergent population of gender-questioning adolescents. This post seeks to explore just one aspect of the phenomenon. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8HADZke7h0[/embed] Heather Heying is an evolutionary biologist, and self-professed “professor-in-exile”. Quote from Heather's video: “You need to be willing to take risks such that when your kids do hit 18 or 20, you know that they’re actually already on their way to being adults. And that it's going to require backing off and letting them do some of their learning on their own and knowing that that’s gonna result in some harm coming to them and it's gonna be physical harm, its gonna be psychological harm, it's gonna be intellectual harm … but frankly the lack of any kind of harm that a lot of kids are experiencing is part of why they’re now saying ‘speech is violence.’ Right, I mean it's part of how we get there.”
_________________________________________________As a parent, think about your reaction to this. Actually, feel your reaction. If you reflexively felt judgmental, wondering how a mother can be so flippant about her children’s safety, I understand. Or maybe you felt enthusiastic that finally, someone was asserting a sorely needed reminder - that kids must learn how to cope with even the ugliest parts of life. I understand that too. What about personal risk-taking in your own life? How does that impact your ability to let your kids be exposed to risk? It may not be obvious how all of this relates to gender identity. But if you’ve ever wondered about your own child: how such a cautious, safe kid could enthusiastically consider a lifetime of hormones and surgery, and misunderstand the risks so gravely, then there is much here to consider. I hope to demonstrate that the ROGD teen’s reluctance to face the realities of their own body is certainly related to their relationship with risk. Furthermore, you, as a parent, can play a vital role in shaping your teen’s ability to bravely face their own reality. Risk: what it is, what it isn't What I mean by “risks” are situations in which there is a possibility of danger or unexpected outcome. For most middle-class families in the modern Western world, these can include the risks of academic failure, social rejection, or emotional disruption, in addition to the possibility of physical harm. Whenever there is difficulty that requires caution, problem solving, skill development, critical thinking, or intuitive responses, that constitutes what I'm calling risk.
- If your teen starts socializing with peers at school, there is a risk that she will get picked on, have rumors spread about her, or be rejected by the group
- When your son first joins the soccer team, and he’s struggling to keep up with other players who are more athletic, there is a risk that he will compare himself and feel inadequate or be mocked for his neophyte status
- If your daughter wants to learn to skateboard at the park, there is a risk she’ll fall and get hurt, that a stranger may talk to her, or that she befriends kids who are getting into some adolescent mischief
- If your high school junior has an upcoming test and you leave them to study as they see fit, there’s a risk they may under-prepare and get a low score
- If your teen has access to the internet, there’s a risk she may see or read something that could lead her down a harmful path
- Give them chores to do around the house
- Have them be responsible for something important (if you have a family pet, put them in charge of its care and make sure they follow through)
- As a family, learn something that’s difficult and hands-on, then ask them to show you how they did it. Some ideas include changing a tire on the car, building a small item in a workshop studio, or making pottery or paintings in an art class.
- Send them to a class on their own: Gymnastics, horseback riding, sports, dance, etc.
- For a bigger adventures consider wilderness camps, outdoor activities, or camping as a family
- For older teens, international travel or university abroad can be a hugely transformative experience
______________________________________I want to leave you with a thought that was beautifully articulated on the podcast, This Jungian Life, in an episode about motherhood and the complex gamut of human emotions it evokes. Fathers, there’s much in this podcast for you too, as they explore parenting with all its hurdles and all its glory. In contemplating the ways in which children can elicit surprising and dark feelings in a frustrated mom or dad, Deborah Stewart reminds parents that they don’t need to be perfect, but just “good enough”. So in reflecting on Heather Heying’s video, keep this image of the “good enough” parent in mind. To encourage brave and confident kids, start by recognizing that you can’t, and shouldn’t, shield them from every discomfort or harm. Instead, by building their ability to be uncomfortable, you will be truly preparing them for a vital and meaningful adulthood.