Whether you’re a parent or a therapist of a teenager and they make a gender disclosure to you, this can be a potentially uncertain and scary time for both of you. For therapists, you might be uncertain about how to support a transgender person specifically. For parents, you might not know how to support your transgender teenager as well as clients might want to disclose their affirmed gender in a therapy session with the parent so they have the support of a therapist during the disclosure. Since as you’ll see later in the episode, self-harm, suicide and depression are unfortunately common effects of transgender people not being in a supportive environment. Therefore, in this clinical psychology podcast episode, you’ll see why supporting a transgender teenager is critical and how therapists and parents can support transgender teenagers. If you enjoy learning about mental health, psychotherapy and transgender topics, you’ll love today’s episode.
Today’s podcast episode has been sponsored by Suicide Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Structure Of This Psychology Podcast Episode
I want the majority of this podcast episode to be aimed at parents because I want them to understand and learn why it is important to support their teenager after a gender disclosure. As well as I want to offer them a lot of practical (unofficial) tips and ways to affirm their teenager’s identity so we can hopefully prevent the large majority of negative mental health outcomes. Like suicide, depression and self-harm.
However, the reason why I am talking about this topic on my psychology podcast where most of my audience members are psychology students, young people and clinical psychologists, is because this is critical for current or future therapists to understand. Since both parents and teenagers will probably need psychological support during this time, and it is always useful to read this parent information. As this helps us to understand and empathise with what the parent has experienced before they come to us.
Additionally, if someone in your psychology workplace comes out as trans or even if you make a transgender friend, it’s always useful to be aware of how to support and affirm their gender identity.
Why Is Supporting Transgender Teenagers Important?
A lot of research has been done over the years on transgender mental health and the awful consequences of trans people not living in a supportive environment. For example, Eisenberg et al. (2017) found roughly 66% of transgender teenagers have had suicidal thoughts as well as this is further supported by Veale et al. (2016) who found 65% of 14 to 18-year-olds have seriously thought about ending their own lives, and this is extremely concerning because only 13% of cisgender teenagers considering ending their own lives during this same age period.
Therefore, therapists and other physical and mental health professionals who work with transgender teenagers can testify that having supportive parents is an extremely positive game changer for teenagers, and there is research supporting this argument too.
For instance, Trans Pulse (2012) conducted research that found the following.
· Transgender teenagers with supportive parents had 72% life satisfaction compared to only 33% for teens with unsupportive parents.
· 64% of teens with supportive parents had high self-esteem compared to only 13% for those without parental support.
· 70% of supported transgender teens had excellent mental health compared to only 15% of unsupported teens.
· 100% of teens with supportive parents had good housing compared to 45% of those lacking parental support.
When it comes to negative outcomes, only 23% of teenagers with supportive parents experienced depressive symptoms compared to 75% of teens without supportive parents. Also, only 4% of transgender teenagers with supportive parents attempted suicide in the past year compared to 57% of teens without support.
Therefore, there is a lot of personal and research evidence that highlights how important parental support is for transgender teenagers. This leads us to our next section and question.
How Can Parents Show Support For Their Non-Binary Or Transgender Teenager?
Since it is only a tiny, tiny minority of people that have to ever “come out” about their gender, no one really understands what it’s like. Therefore, whenever a teenager comes out about their gender identity, it is important to know that they are revealing an extremely important and very vulnerable part of themselves. And they are putting themselves in a very courageous and scary place because this important part of them could be rejected.
Personally, I’ll admit this was very scary for me to because I came out as trans non-binary to my parents a few weeks ago actually. And even though the relationship between my parents and myself is a lot better, healthier and great as far as LGBT+ topics are concerned, this was still an extremely scary topic for me to reveal and I had no idea what was going to happen.
Thankfully, they accepted it and they love and support me.
As a result, it is important to know how to affirm a transgender or non-binary person gender identity to hopefully prevent some of those worrying mental health outcomes mentioned above.
Therefore, here are some ways to affirm a teenager’s gender identity
· Affirm their gender by using their affirmed-gender’s pronouns and name.
This is important because your transgender teenager would have spent a lot of time and emotional energy choosing their new name, so it might feel upsetting and it might feel strange to use a new name, but it will become easier over time.
· Help to prevent bullying and when it happens, address it.
· Prevent and address any cruelty and harm aimed at your client or child
· Allow your child to show you who they are and love your child fully.
· Help them access gender-affirming therapy and medical services.
· Work with your teenager’s school to make sure they can use the affirming bathroom and there are affirming classroom practices in place. For example, using their affirmed or “chosen” name on school materials and the register.
· Help your teenager explore and progress in their social transition when they’re ready for it.
Other Ways To Affirm Your Teenager’s Gender Identity
Another way to affirm your teenager’s gender identity is to educate yourself so listen to podcast episodes (like you are now), read books, watch videos and more to help educate yourself about the topic. And even before I realised I was watching these videos and learning about the topic because I was trans myself, I have to admit it was a lot of fun and this is a really interesting area.
Furthermore, you need to accept your own feelings because it is perfectly okay to feel a sense of loss when your child makes a gender disclosure. Since parents do plan for their child to do X, Y and Z as their Gender Assigned at Birth, so when this changes, your hopes, dreams and your expectations change too. You might feel angry, overwhelmed and confused about why this is happening, and I get that. These are normal reactions so please make sure that you process and deal with your own feelings, but make sure you support your child. That is the most important thing during this whole process.
Building upon this further, make sure you listen to your family member in a nonjudgemental way. Since transitioning is difficult and it is a journey that takes a hell of a lot of courage, so please allow your teenager to be hopeful and guide you so you know what they need from you.
In addition, it’s important to know there is no one right way to be trans, because not everyone’s journey is the same. Yes, it is true that some people know their trans ever since they were a small child, other people don’t realise it until puberty and others still don’t realise it until much later. Personally, I only realised I was trans non-binary because I haven’t “felt” like a man for years and then over the summer during my therapy work, it dawned on me that I don’t “feel” like a man not because of my abuse and trauma. But because I just don’t connect to a male identity and I am just me. Not a man, certainly not a woman, just me.
Also, some trans people might be militantly active about their gender identity, some people might not. I know some people that are very active about their gender identity, but I am seriously not. I’m extremely passive about me being non-binary, so it’s up to the teenager to decide how they want to be trans and what being trans being to them.
Finally, be happy for yourself and for your teenager because yes, the transgender journey is hard. I will not lie about that for a moment. Yet transitioning from a birth gender to who you really are is a hopeful, positive and affirming thing that is amazing. So if you allow yourself to be happy for your teenager because they’re finally being who they always wanted to be, then you’ll find a lot of joy in the process too as you see your child become happier, more authentic and enjoy living their best life.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion
Whether you’re a parent or a therapist or both and you have a transgender teenager, the most important thing you can do is support them during this difficult time for them. The fact that they are transgender doesn’t make life difficult, it is the world we live in that is going through a massive hating period towards transgender people, and it is that negative trans world that makes life difficult for trans people. Yet the family home and the parental environment is the perfect place to offer a trans person the love, support and protection that they have the right to feel. The same goes for the therapy room. Just like cisgender clients, whenever a trans person walks into a therapy room whether they are for mental health difficulties related to being trans or not, they deserve to feel and experience the same security, safety and sense of welcome that all our other clients feel.
And that sense of security and safety and openness to be their authentic self all starts with their gender identity being affirmed and after this podcast episode, you now have a great starting point in knowing how to do just that.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Suicide Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology References
Eisenberg, M. E., Gower, A. L., McMorris, B. J., Rider, G. N., Shea, G., & Coleman, E. (2017). Risk and protective factors in the lives of transgender/gender nonconforming adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 61(4), 521-526.
Eisenberg, M. E., Gower, A. L., McMorris, B. J., Rider, G. N., Shea, G., & Coleman, E. (2017). Risk and protective factors in the lives of transgender/gender nonconforming adolescents. Journal of adolescent health, 61(4), 521-526.
Iverson, Jo. (2020). Once A Girl, Always A Boy. Berkeley, CA: She Writes Press
Perez-Brumer, A., Day, J. K., Russell, S. T., & Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2017). Prevalence and correlates of suicidal ideation among transgender youth in California: findings from a representative, population-based sample of high school students. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 56(9), 739-746.
SANSFAÇON, A. P., GELLY, M. A., FADDOUL, M., & LEE, E. O. J. (2020). Parental support and non-support of trans youth: towards a nuanced understanding of forms of support and trans youth's expectations. Enfances, Familles, Generations, (36).
Seibel, B. L., de Brito Silva, B., Fontanari, A. M., Catelan, R. F., Bercht, A. M., Stucky, J. L., ... & Costa, A. B. (2018). The impact of the parental support on risk factors in the process of gender affirmation of transgender and gender diverse people. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 399.
Veale, J. F., Watson, R. J., Peter, T., & Saewyc, E. M. (2017). Mental Health Disparities Among Canadian Transgender Youth. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 60(1), 44–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.09.014
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