Awhile back I heard about parents who brought a two-year-old into an ER whose symptoms basically equated to a low-grade fever and a cold. The parents, in all earnestness, said they had asked their two-year-old that morning if he thought he was sick enough he needed to go to the ER, and he said yes, so that was why they were there. This experience inspired me. I mean, what better person turn to for advice about how to raise a child than the source itself — a toddler.
For instance, when my almost two- and five-year-old children decide that ice cream cake is a great choice for dinner, who am I to stand in their way? After all, it’s their bodies, their futures, I’m just a grown adult with a lot of life experience. What do I know?
The phrase, “Well, the children think this is a great idea, so I guess we better do it….” is our family’s new inside joke.
I share this story because of several articles I’ve seen flying around the internet that I find a little disturbing. I’m sure many of you have seen them as well, but in case you’re like me and try to avoid Hollywood hype and gossip, let me fill you in.
Back in December, Brad Pitt appeared at the Unbroken premier with his two oldest sons and one of his daughters, Shiloh. What caught the media’s attention was that seven-year-old Shiloh wore a boy’s suit, which paired with her short hair and propensity for being called “John,” sent the media into this big frenzy about how wonderful it is that the Jolie-Pitt family are letting their daughter choose her own gender identity. Some articles about the whole affair went so far as to call Shiloh “he”; others used “they” to remove gender specific pronouns.
First off, I want to be clear that my intention is not to criticize Brad or Angelina for allowing their daughter to choose her own style. If she is a “Tom boy” and likes to dress in traditional boy clothes and even have a boyish nickname, then I don’t think they should force their daughter to wear dresses and play with dolls.
The criticism I have is for the way the media has spun this story into the poster child for how parents should handle and encourage “transgender children.” Shiloh Jolie-Pitt is seven years old. Have you spent much time with a seven-year-old lately? I teach a Sunday School class for seven-year-olds, and I also have several nieces and nephews around that age, so I have had some opportunities to observe. Seven-year-olds are like little sponges, soaking up the world around them, desiring to assert themselves as independent, yet still young enough to admire and seek to emulate anyone older than themselves willing to give a little time and attention. Given that Shiloh has two older teenage brothers, it’s not surprising she’d try to follow in their footsteps.
This is why I think spinning Shiloh’s Tom-boyish choices into a story about choosing to be transgender seems a lot like asking a two-year-old if they think they need to go to the ER. Does any seven-year-old really have the understanding or maturity to know all of the complexity that comes with identifying oneself as transgender? Do they even know their identity at that age? Is it fair to make this little girl into some sort of champion for the transgender community when she’s in grade school, an age where kids still sleep with nightlights and believe in the tooth fairy?
Come on America. Let’s encourage our kids to learn and grow and explore the world, but let’s quit acting like the decisions of a small child are wise or long-lasting. Children shouldn’t be bullied or demeaned in their quest to understand themselves, but they do need adults who will lead them, who will nurture them, and who will encourage them to make wise choices.
That being said, it’s almost dinnertime, so I better put on my super hero costume, get ready for the all night party, and whip up an ice cream cake. Seems a little overboard to me, but it’s what the kids advised. And if the kids think it’s a great idea…by