Ready or not! Sometimes the media creates a teachable moment for parents, whether we are ready or not. Last week's announcement that Albus Dumbledore, the Head of Hogwarts and protector of Harry Potter was gay, created exactly that - a moment to talk to your kids about homosexuality, discrimination and how homosexuality is portrayed in the media. The conversation mustbe structured to include your cultural or religious beliefs, but below are some basics you can use to start things off.
In my household, with teenagers brought up in the bay area, it was not that much of a newsflash, but we did discuss how we might have known, as well as a couple of story lines that we thought were not consistent with that fact, including the interactions of Dumbledore with the female owner of the Three Broomsticks, but maybe she is just a flirt. We also discussed whether or not we thought the last movies would sensationalize the idea more than necessary, but we will have to wait and see!
This might have been a tougher conversation for families with kids under 11, so I thought I would suggest a few conversation starters. For kids under 11:
It is always a good idea to start by asking if they know what a word means, in this case, you could ask about heterosexual, homosexual, gay, lesbian, or queer. If you are feeling brave, take on bisexual, too, which is sometimes a little more difficult because we know little about the subject.
Depending on where you live, your kids may already have friends with same-sex parents, which will make the conversation much easier because you can point out how families are families, and parents love children, no matter what sex the parents are.
The next step is to clear up any stereotypes that might materialize when they explain the meaning of a word, and clarify that sometimes people fall in love with a person that is the same gender, so men love men and women love women.
Depending on the maturity of the child, and the familiarity with the Harry Potter movies and books, you can talk about the story line and the fact that this fact about Dumbledore does not really change how people feel about him, or his role in Harry's life.
You can also talk about why his sexuality may have not been reveled until the books were already written, social bias, and how people may have reacted if they were biased or prejudiced about homosexuality if the news had come earlier.
Finally, for you cynics, you can have the conversation about "buzz" and why the media and author might be stirring up publicity for the last couple of movies.
In addition to helping kids understand what homosexuality is, this is a perfect opportunity to make sure that no matter what your views are about homosexuality, that your child knows that if s/he were gay or lesbian, that you would love him or her just as much as if they were heterosexual. This may really important if your cultural or religious beliefs suggest homosexuality is not an option because your child might think you would not love him or her if s/he was gay or lesbian.
Like all difficult conversations, it is important to be honest and let your kids know where you stand, what you expect from them, and to provide resources outside the family if you cannot talk with them about a particular subject.