Transgender Teens and Embracing The New Normal

A recent study by the Minnesota Student Survey revealed that nearly 3% of students in grades nine and eleven identified as transgender or nonconforming. To be transgender is to identify with and/or express one’s self as a different gender than the one assigned at birth. An individual who is gender nonconforming might not necessarily identify as transgender, but does not follow societal norms of being masculine or feminine.

The Minnesota Survey identified that transgender and non-conforming teens are more susceptible to health risks such as being significantly more affected by mental health issues and difficulty accessing healthcare. Adolescents also face discrimination from peers at school. A National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed that students who expressed transgender identity in grades K-12 reported multiple forms of harassment. 35% of participants reported physical assault, while 12% reported sexual violence. Finally, one-sixth of participants admitted to having to leave school at one point or another due to intense harassment.

How Schools are Adapting

The debate of whether or not to establish gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms is an on-going discussion in schools across the nation. A handful of schools have decided to establish gender-neutral facilities, or allow students who identify with another gender to use the restroom they feel most comfortable with. Despite this change, opinions are split amongst parents and students.

Teachers and counselors are making an effort to better understand the needs and differences of students who identify as transgender or nonconforming. Staff training is becoming more common, but there is still a long road ahead. Teachers can show respect for students by calling them by their name of choice, ridding of boy-girl seating charts and always providing a safe space for each child.

What You Can Do As a Parent

The concept of identifying with another gender is becoming increasingly normal in our society—particularly amongst younger generations. Three-quarters of Generation Z students believe in equal rights for transgender individuals. They’ve been brought up in an evolving culture that encourages togetherness and acceptance of diversity.

Despite this cultural shift, conflicts and differences in opinion will continue to exist for the unforeseeable future. It’s important that you continue to educate yourself on handling these differences so that you can in turn talk to your children about the subject and answer any questions they may have. Below are some strategies that can be used when talking with a transgender or nonconforming child.

  • Be accepting. If your child tells you they identify with another gender, the chances are they’ve been contemplating their identity for a while. Believe what they say and trust that that they’re the experts when it comes to their own feelings. Avoid assuming this is a “phase.”
  • Educate yourself on gender. Understand the difference between gender and sex. For example, gender norms have dictated that women wear dresses; whereas the ability to get pregnant relates to sex. It’s also important to understand that not all individuals who consider themselves transgender are interested in a sex change.
  • Avoid making assumptions. Understand that not all girls who identify with the male gender will want to play sports or cut their hair short. Let your child be an individual and listen to their desires. Another assumption that should be avoided is the notion that all transgender/nonconforming children need therapy. Talk to your child first to see if they would benefit having an unbiased party to talk to about their identity. Support of some kind is still important, regardless of their preference.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding gender identity, your UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics doctor can offer support and guidance for you and your child.