Supporting Transgender Youth
A teen’s adolescent years are a period of self-discovery, change, and growth. All adolescents commonly experience various challenges throughout this sensitive stage, from school stress, managing family and peer relationships, and body image. During this period, it is important to support and encourage teens – regardless of their gender identity. For transgender youth, common adolescent challenges may arise along with other concerns surrounding peer inclusion and their gender identity.
It is important to address the difference between sexual and gender identity. While some may use the terms “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. “Sex” refers to one’s physical reproductive system, while “gender” refers to one’s personal sense of oneself as male or female. Another misconception is that gender identity is binary – meaning one can only identify as either male or female. One can also identify as “nonbinary” or “agender.” The term “cisgender” applies to one who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth.
Doing your research is an essential step in learning how to support your transgender youth and community. Here are a few suggested dos and don’ts on how to show up and support today’s transgender youth.
- Ask transgender youth invasive, inappropriate questions about their body or sexuality.
- Offer unsolicited advice. Regardless of how much you think you may know, you should not offer advice or comments based on your own assumptions. Every individual and family has their own process; learn to listen and keep an open mind.
- Make assumptions about one’s gender identity.
- Respect identities and use preferred gender pronouns and preferred names.
- Confront transphobia with information and dialogue. Actively create an affirming environment that supports individual gender expression.
- Display unconditional love as a parent. Family support is critical for a child’s healthy development. Remind them that you stand with them and that they have your love and full support.
- Get involved and attend or create discussion groups or programs that address transgender, bullying, and other similar topics. This is a great opportunity to have speakers share their experiences as transgender youth or adults.
- Use inclusive language. Avoid titles such as Mr., Mrs., and Ms. and instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “wife/husband,” consider using terms like “partner” or “significant other.” Substitute the terms “men” or “women” with “individuals” or “people.”
Learning to support your transgender youth takes time and a willingness to actively learn. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists understand the concerns and challenges that pertain to the transgender community. Visit our directory to find qualified MFTs who can support, educate, and provide quality therapy involving LGBTQ-related topics. For more transgender resources for teens, parents, and therapists, visit https://www.facebook.com/genderodyssey.
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