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‘Listen Moms, Dads, Grandparents: I’m going to change who your child is. There’s nothing you can do about it.’ Terrifying, for any of us, as parents. That has everything–and nothing–to do with Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum. Because that’s roughly how sounds to you:  You have strong moral foundations that you have cultivated as a member of a collectivistic society (and Oscar Rudenstam recognizes that much). Family and community decisions are the primary pivot-points in smooth social functioning. Of course it looks and sounds irresponsible for the state to make decisions about how much healthy human sexuality a child should be taught. At any grade level. No amount of consulting across a full range of parents and cultures will cover it. Let’s not even try to keep going until everyone is satisfied. (Pro-sex-ed parents, raised in individualistic cultures, know how to protest, too.) Still, it’s essential to understand what our children are required to hear and see, versus what they are not. Louise Brown of the Toronto Star (2015/10/27) reported:

“School boards have told parents they have the right to keep their children from the handful of lessons on human development if they violate their religious beliefs, but students cannot be excused from any discussion of human rights or equality for those of different gender identities.”

In other words: The threat of ‘changing who are children are’ cuts both ways. On the one hand,  it’s simply not possible to ‘promote’ homosexuality. On the other hand, what’s not merely possible, but all too common, is that a person is forced to deny who they are, from an early age.

Wholesale unhingeing of children’s gender preferences or gender identities is a truly terrifying notion. Doing so by means of information about the scope and range of typical and atypical developmental pathways is utterly impossible. Or even the prospect of derailing our kids through information about more unusual, abnormal sexual development, in serious need of early, family-centred help. If kids were that easy to influence, we could get them all to reduce their screen time down to one hour a day. (Most of us adults are already far beyond that. And we know it’s not good for us.)

Tara Hatherly (East York Mirror, 2015/10/08) quoted Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Coalition as follows.

“Children will be taught the disputed theory of gender identity and gender fluidity, which is the notion that a little boy can become a little girl in his mind, or vice versa . . . [T]hey can switch back and forth . . . [B]eing a boy or girl is unconnected to your physical anatomy.”

Really? Whose theory is this, currently? I have studied child and adolescent psychology for 25 years and practiced school psychology with students having gender identity issues. I can tell you that two extreme theories are both discredited. One older theory asserts that certain people just decide to ‘transgress’ or ‘defy’ their gender for some reason, and that gets labelled as pathological. The other discredited theory asserts that psychological gender fluidity can happen, regardless of how your brain and body are constituted. Complete rot, both sides (see, Moliero  & Pinto, 2015). Those theories may still float around in the media. At worst, they would not get past a first-draft curriculum read by the experts the Ministry consulted.

Both theories are symptomatic of how we still too-often artificially split off psychological functioning from physical. It is comforting for parents to know that our children’s psychologies are firmly rooted in their bodies and their brains. It is also comforting to all young people with important differences from most of their peers, to know that their differences are very real and just-as-firmly rooted in their different brain physiology (e.g. Simon at al., 2015).

As parents, most of us don’t want our kids changed drastically by anyone. But that is exactly what will happen at some point, if they go forth uninformed, into multicultural peer society. So how do we find a balance point, where families maintain a comfortable level of decision-making, but students gain a safe level of awareness?

Just as important: How can healthy collectivist values and social processes like the strong extended family  be preserved, despite world-wide intrusions by McLuhan’s (electronic) global village? As one Pakistani-Canadian colleague points out to me, even in South Eastern countries, children and youth are faced with a conflict of cultural norms between web-based awareness and family cohesion. If South East Asian Canadian families were to all go down the exact same hyper-individualistic path as European Canadians have done, then their level of family cohesion would suffer the same fate. Hyper-individualism has given North America the exploding family. Hey, thanks. Especially in urban centres, for one thing, we see a lack of extended-family support for new mothers. It is too-often a factor in post-partum depression. Post-partum family dysfunction fails some new moms just when their bodies, minds and busy hands need help on every side. On another note, there’s good evidence that collectivist societies can support a precious quality-of-life factor simply called happiness.

Here’s one idea. Concerned parents could certainly request a night-class run-through of the sex-ed teaching units in question. A respectful teacher and a respectful class can be a magical meeting. Let’s not try to solve all of our issues in such a forum. But we can be certain that those issues will look different, when we have discussed them, up close and personal. I am no longer a public school parent, but I’d be more than happy to attend and listen, if any local parent group and their school should both request it.

Yours in health and development,

Ken McCallion, MA, CPsych Assoc

Moleiro, C., & Pinto, N. (2015). Sexual orientation and gender identity: review of concepts, controversies and their relation to psychopathology classification systems. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1511. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01511

Simon, L., Kozák, L. R., Simon, V., Czobor, P., Unoka, Z., Szabó, Á., & Csukly, G. (2013). Regional Grey Matter Structure Differences between Transsexuals and Healthy Controls—A Voxel Based Morphometry Study. PLoS ONE, 8(12), e83947. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083947

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