Raising teenagers is very hard. There are mood swings, changing bodies, and a wide array of tensions that can arise from a young person attempting to find themselves and gain independence.
If you are able to understand these basics, it will not be that far out of your comfort zone when it comes to raising a transgender teenager.
If your teen has recently confided in you that they are questioning their gender identity, or they have ‘come out of the closet’, it can be a very scary revelation.
There may be reactions that you find yourself gravitating towards, from confusion to denial, and there could even be some personal biases which work their way into your response and behavior.
It is important to approach your teen with a high level of empathy (see also “What Is Empathy Diversity Training?“) and open mindedness above all else.
If your teenager has come out to you as transgender (meaning the assigned gender given to them at birth based on their sex is incongruous with their beliefs and self-perception), this is an immediate sign of their bravery and their trust in you, the parent or caregiver.
Continue reading for what you need to know about raising transgender teens.
Think Before You React
If you teenager has come out as transgender, it is important not to panic or act too irrationally. This has taken an extreme amount of courage on their part, and is a sure sign that they respect and trust you.
It would be very hurtful if they were to be disbelieved or yelled at by the person they have confided in.
Studies have shown that the parental response and attitude towards transgender youth is key to their future happiness and mental health – Tandy Aye, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford has said “[the] parent-child relationship is still super important” to transgender teenagers.
Instead, try to be respectful and empathetic. When your teen is speaking, telling you how they feel or what they want, you should listen.
When it is your turn to speak, let them know that you still love them and this is a journey for the both of you to take together.
Tell them your current level of understanding of the subject, be that a decent level of awareness or not very educated at all. This is a time for everyone to put their cards on the table.
Remember that you are allowed your own reaction, as this will also be a time of transition for you, but being there for your child is something all parents must do.
Understand Your Child
It is likely that your teen will come to you with research they have already done. Don’t feel threatened by anything, as they are as scared as you are.
They may have found personal pronouns that fit who they are. We all have pronouns, and these denote gender – he/him, she/her, they/them.
Respecting pronouns is the first step in accepting your child for who they are. This may be a tough change to implement, and your teen will hopefully understand that misgendering could occur.
What’s important is the effort you are putting in.
If your teen wants to be referred to by a different name, this too can be scary. A change in wardrobe and hairstyle may also follow.
It is vital that you support their exploration and bringing up these topics will once again signal your openness and acceptance.
If your transgender teen wants to wear a dress at home, this could be an outfit to pick out together and bond over.
This all may appear as though you are losing your son or daughter, but they are still the same person inside and trying to understand that can be very difficult.
If you are reading this article, that’s already a good sign of your willingness to learn. As with many topics, there are conflicting voices vying for attention.
Seek out articles and books written by transgender people, charities or organizations run for transgender people and their families, or academics trained in relevant fields.
Perhaps ask your child if they have any resources, but be sure not to give them the added burden of educating you.
Learn about subjects like the difference between sex and gender, the unique struggles facing transgender people today, the realities of transitioning, and the need that trans teens have for supportive parents or guardians.
Find out whether there are any logistical issues that need to be addressed and when, with the consent of your child, such as official paperwork.
Consulting with a charity is also a great place to start. Above all else, understand that being transgender is not a psychological disorder, but simply an awareness of the self.
Learn that being trans is part of who your child is, and not what your child is.
Create A Safe Space
Creating an environment where everyone feels safe to speak their mind, talk about their concerns and their needs, is vital at these early stages.
Transitioning is simply a fact of life for many transgender people, and having a supportive family is a key factor in living a happy and healthy life before, during, and after transition.
Encourage your teen in particular to discuss any feelings or worries that they may have. Ask them what they would like to achieve with regards to transitioning in the coming weeks, months, and years.
Establishing wants and needs, and forming a plan, will not only be a useful tool but an effective bonding experience.
Throughout the changes that will occur now your child is out as transgender, it’s important to remember that they’re still your child.
The memories you both value still have meaning and, with enough hard work and empathy, you will be able to create new memories together.
As the parent of a transgender teen, you are privileged to be aiding and raising the generation that will make this process easier and simpler for those to come.