If your teenager comes out to you as being transgender, you might feel overwhelmed. You might not know how to handle the situation or even how to understand what your child is going through. In addition, you may be worried about how society will treat your son or daughter. Seemingly small things like how you should refer to your child might make you feel stressed, and larger issues like how to best handle situations at your teen’s school might catch you by surprise. Read on for some tips on how to stand by your transgender teen.
1. Educate Yourself
People tend to avoid or fear what they don’t understand, so as the parent of a transgender teen, it’s important to understand your child as much as you can. Talk to him or her about how they feel. Ask whether you should refer to them as he, she, they, or some other pronoun. Take what your teen says at face value: By the time your teen comes to you with being transgender, he or she has already internalized and accepted this truth. They might have already told their friends. Some teens are out at school before they break the news to their families.
Talking to your adolescent is the first step toward educating yourself. No one knows how your teen is feeling better than your teen! However, there are other ways of learning about issues, too. You can find many resources online. One great resource is the Human Rights Campaign. If your teen has questions, work together to find out the answers.
2. Acceptance Is Vital
You might not understand everything that your teen is going through, and you might even philosophically or religiously disagree with it. However, it is absolutely necessary to show love and respect for your teen. Let your child know first and foremost that you love and accept them no matter what. If you have questions, feel free to ask them in a non-judgemental way. Always keep in mind that your teen did not choose this. It’s just the way things are.
Gay and transgender teenagers are at a higher risk of committing suicide than their straight peers, and this is particularly true when their parents and other family members do not accept them. Do not tolerate slurs or bullying remarks from other household or family members. Show your teen that you will not only accept them but also stand up for them if they face harassment and other unacceptable behavior from those in your family.
3. Work With Your Child’s School
It’s important to make sure that your teen’s school is following the law and maintaining a respectful and safe environment for your child. Title IX is a federal law that bans discrimination based on gender or sexuality. This means, among other things, that your teen has the right to be addressed by the pronoun he or she chooses, they can use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity (or they can request a separate bathroom, but they cannot be forced to use a separate bathroom), and they can participate in all school events just like any other student.
Brainstorm with your teen about which teachers or counselors are most likely to be supportive so he or she has someone in school to talk to should the need arise. Also, schedule an appointment with your child’s principal to discuss this issue. Many schools will follow the law and work with your child once they know that the issue exists. If yours won’t, you may need to go to the school board or even the media. Let your transgender teen know that you have their back.
4. Work With Your Child’s Doctor
Your pediatrician or family doctor might not have much experience working with transgender youth. If this is the case, consider looking for a doctor who does have this experience. If your family doctor is caring and able to treat your child with empathy and expertise, this lack of experience might not matter. Stress the importance of proper pronoun usage to the staff when you check in. Request that this information is added to your teen’s chart and remind them each time you visit.
Some transgender teens decide that they’d like to transition, and others do not. Talk to your teen and his or her doctor about the different options. If he or she would like to look into the transitioning process, make an appointment with an endocrinologist to talk about the various issues and treatments available.
You might need to stand up for your child if they need to go to an emergency room, an urgent care center, or another doctor’s office. Speak to the staff and let them know that your child is transgender. Also, talk to your teen about the possibility that they might be misgendered by an unknowing medical professional. Teach them how to assertively and politely let the doctor or nurse know that they are transgender and which pronouns to use.
5. Join a Support Group
Counseling and a support group can be vital parts of your teen’s support system. (Keep in mind that counseling will not change your teen’s gender identity; that’s called conversion therapy, and it’s dangerous.)
Support groups can also be important for you as the parent. You might have conflicting feelings: Many parents want to support their transgender teen but don’t know how to do that without violating their own feelings on the matter. A support group made up of other parents in a similar situation can help you better support your teen while giving you a place to express your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental place.
Knowing how to best support your transgender teen is a wonderful gift that you can give your child. He or she will encounter people who mistreat them just for being who they are, so being that safe place in the storm can help your teen stay grounded and secure. Do what you can to raise awareness in your community, work with your teen’s school, and be his or her medical advocate when needed. Be assured that your teen can grow up to be a fulfilled adult no matter what his or her gender.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.