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Q. With the debate about gay marriage heating up, I'm concerned about educating my children on this issue. We are religious, and we go to church every Sunday with our children, but I don't agree with the way people are using the Bible to discriminate against gay people and gay marriage. I'd like my children to be open-minded about this topic. I have a 9-year-old son, a 12-year-old daughter, and a 15-year-old son.
A. It's important for parents to understand that they are their children's social reference. What does this term "social reference" mean? Simply that children look to parents to explain situations, whether cultural, historical, or personal.
If parents don't shed light on social circumstances, children, with their high level of curiosity, turn to peers, the media, or other adults. Even though children look to their parents to explain social issues, that doesn't mean that they'll think and behave exactly as their parents do. It's just that children need a reference point and that point comes most naturally from parents.
Start the conversation about gays by stating exactly what you asked in your question: "You know kids, our family is religious; we all go to church every Sunday. I just want you all to know that I don't like the way some people use the Bible to discriminate against gay people and gay marriage. I hope that the three of you are open-minded about this topic." If your children want further clarification, offer it. Explain how your opinion on the matter coincides with your faith, rather than contradicting it.
When you explain your perspective, realize that only your 9-year-old will accept your ideas unquestioningly. Your 12- and 15-year-old will probably question your thoughts, argue, and possibly disagree. Nevertheless, it's important for your children to hear where you stand. While your teens won't say, "Thanks for offering your insights on this topic," they will listen and even quote your thoughts and ideas to others.
If you experience an example of someone revealing their prejudice against gays with the Bible as their backup, tell your children of the incident. Real life examples have a powerful influence on the listener.
If possible, become acquainted with a gay couple; invite them to your house for dinner. By doing so, you afford your children the opportunity to know the pair as complex individuals, and not as people who are grouped and referred to by sexual orientation alone.
For some reason, parents today seem reluctant to speak up and let their opinions be known to their children. Have parents lost their courage? Don't be afraid to open up debates and relate experiences that underline your points of view. And when kids speak their minds, it's important that parents listen and respect their thoughts and ideas.
Parents are powerful people to their children; they have every right to let their children know where they stand. Children only benefit when parents step up to the parenting plate and reveal their perspective on many social issues.