A quick search will bring many suggestions for books that introduce the idea of feeling like you’re different or families with two Moms or two Dads. One especially accessible book is The Family Book which details families of many combinations in a fun and engaging way.
There are some wonderful books for the younger set that can help families with language and discussion points around LGBTQ topics in an age-appropriate and welcoming manner.
You’re Different and That’s Super, And Tango Makes Three, Red: A Crayon’s Story, I Am Jazz, and My Princess Boy have all gotten rave reviews for their approach to gay families and transgender topics. Unfortunately, a lovely book called Goblinheart, by Brett Axel, is out of print. If you find it, buy it!
Remember, the goal in these books is to expose children to a variety of realities, bolster self-esteem and a sense of self, and to help children empathize with others who may feel out of place. Even if some of these books may feel too “young” for your elementary school child, it’s important that the reading level and story line isn’t too complicated when you are broaching a new topic.
Tween Puberty & Human Sexuality Books
The Care and Keeping of US: A Sharing Collection for Girls & Their Moms is a dual set of books that helps facilitate discussions between girls and trusted female caregivers. It comes from the American Girl Publishing company, that is also responsible for one of the most highly recommended books on the list: American Girl: The Care & Keeping of You, which has a younger girl version and an older girl version. There is also the handy and direct American Girl: Is This Normal? (hint: The answer is almost always YES.)
Boys have questions too! And we’ve got books to help caregivers and children deal with them. This title says it all: What’s Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask. And also direct and accessible is The Boy’s Body Book: 3rd Edition – Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU.
Once bodies and the changes they may be (or soon will be) experiencing is covered, we recommend tweens and caregivers sit down with this gem: Let’s Talk About S-E-X: A Guide for Kids 9 to 12 and Their Parents. The information is direct, and the language is simple enough that after a family discussion, children can return to the book on their own to reread and form new questions.
LGBTQ books for Tweens and Teens
Whether your child has questions about family friends, school friends, themselves, or other community members, it’s important to provide open-minded and reliable resources when it comes to LGBTQ topics. With rapidly changing and sometimes unfamiliar language, resources like the books listed here can be a lifesaver in more ways than one.
Guides are a go-to resources, and we recommend this one for family discussions: LGBTQ Families: The Ultimate Teen Guide. Teens who are more reticent to discuss intimate issues surrounding their own or friends sexuality will find this guide helpful and informative: Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens.
So Hard to Say is a novel that addresses awareness of others and self regarding coming out as gay. George and Parrotfish (fiction) and Being Jazz (memoir) are books that focus on the experience of children as they assert their gender identity to family and friends.
For further reading suggestions, TOP 250 LGBTQ Books for Teens is a great resource.
Teen Human Sexuality Resources
Broaching not just topics about sex and the human body, but the reality of participating in intimate acts is important before children are faced with choices regarding sex. Sharing family values is key, but we must also provide the tools to make confident decisions for themselves and a significant other in a world where values and expectations vary widely.
We recommend that parents and caregivers read these books for themselves, and then share them with the teens in their lives.
Beyond the Big Talk: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Teens from Middle School to High School and Beyond
Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape
Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy
There are some amazing websites that can serve as excellent resources for family discussions. One caveat is that children with unfettered access to internet resources will have seen a very wide variety of images and information. It is not recommended to start a conversation with your teen with “Let’s search the Internet for some topics together.” However, having a frank discussion about images and information they may have encountered is also important. (Trust me when I say that in researching this post, there was a lot to weed through.)
The Rutgers ANSWER: Sex Ed, honestly organization has a comprehensive site with information, a comprehensive resource guide, and even a communication tool to get the conversation started. Topics range from masturbation to birth control to consent to STDs to body image. the site is directed to teens (13-19) with access to varied opinions and answers. There is even a video about Sex Myths that definitely do NOT prevent pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood has a fantastic YouTube channel with an entire section on Parenting Tips. They also have a series of videos focused on CONSENT, another channel with loads of videos all about contraception. In Spanish too! This video about how to properly put on a condom is matter-of-fact and informative. Since NJ has seen a six year spike in STD transmission, making the condom great again should be a goal for our teens.
For presentations to groups or classes, there are resources available as well. The highly recommended Unitarian Universalist Association has the Our Whole Lives (OWL) program, which meets the National Sex Ed Standards, and it can be easily adapted for alternate or non-religious purposes. See more information here, including how to bring the program to your organization. The OWL resources are available to purchase here.
Local non-profit group Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (S.O.F.I.A.)* has presented programs focused on healthy relationships and recognizing the signs of dating violence to Girl Scout Troops, school classrooms, parent groups, college groups, and other community groups.
Love Is Respect is a great resource for teens wondering about how to help themselves or a friend who may be in an abusive relationship. With quizzes, helplines, and a focus on preventing and ending abusive relationships, the site can be invaluable and private way for both teens and parents to seek help.
The National Council of Jewish Women has a teen dating abuse program that has been used in schools and with community programs.
Most important for healthy discussions between parents/caregivers and teens is that there is an openness and non-judgmental trust. School SACs and school nurses are reliable resources for the community, and many in the district have been working to elevate the Family Life program (based on NJ standards) in our public schools. Family pediatricians can also help facilitate discussions surrounding body awareness, sexual health, and choices regarding sexual activity. If you have discomfort or are unsure about appropriate or well-meaning language, you are not alone! Browse these resources and discuss the issues with friends and neighbors.
* Full disclosure: The author is on the board of S.O.F.I.A. and volunteers as a presenter for these workshops.