WHAT IS GENDER DYSPHORIA?
Questioning Gender Identity, also known as Gender Dysphoria is a feeling of distress, either emotionally or physiologically as a result of the sex or gender an individual was assigned at birth.
When a teen is uncomfortable or feels unhappy with his or her physical sex, the are likely suffering from gender dysphoria. This condition often manifests in children as young as two to four years of age as a desire to be, or a belief that he or she is of the opposite sex.
In many cases, the feeling of having the wrong physical sex will continue into adulthood. A transgender teen will feel increasing discomfort, even disgust with his or her body as sexual development begins.
WHEN TO GET YOUR TEEN HELP
The adolescent and teenage years seem to go hand in hand with struggle. This is understandable, as these years are a period of growth (both mentally and physically), and exploration. And because some level of struggle is natural, parents find it difficult to know when it is appropriate to seek outside support for their child. It’s even more difficult if your teen is struggling with something you don’t understand, such as identity issues. If your teen is questioning their gender identity, and shows any of the following signs of distress, then it may be time to identify outside mental health support.
- Withdrawing socially or social isolation
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Increased irritability or other mood changes
- Changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
- Expressing ongoing lethargy or exhaustion
- Increased restlessness and/or anxiety
- Expressing hopeless of suicidal thoughts
- Ongoing physical symptoms such as a headaches or stomach aches
SYMPTOMS & SIGNS
There are many symptoms & signs associated with gender dysphoria. These signs may be physical, mental, or behavioral in nature. A teen suffering from gender dysphoria may exhibit a range of feelings and behaviors that are confusing to parents.
These patterns typically develop in early childhood. They can also start to emerge as the adolescent grows into a young adult. Below are a few indicators that show your child may be suffering from Gender Dysphoria:
- If you notice your child is avoiding school.
- They are engaging in behavior typically associated with the opposite sex.
- They refuse to participate in sports or activities traditionally associated with their at-birth gender.
TIPS TO HELP CHILDREN SUFFERING FROM GENDER DYSPHORIA
The feeling of being trapped inside the body of the other sex causes great emotional pain. Many feel pressure from family members to conform to traditional gender roles.
Some ways you can support and become closer to your struggling LGBTQ teen:
Listen – Understand why they came out to you. Maybe they needed a shoulder to lean on, or they felt tired of “sneaking around”. Whatever the reason, take the time necessary to find & listen to their truth.
Support – Respect their feelings and their choices, do not try and “convert” your teen. Your teen trusted you – it is important to keep the communication lines open. Honor that trust and don’t break it.
Educate yourself – if your child is experiencing gender identity issues, it is important to educate yourself. this means having knowledge about sexual orientation, gender identity, and other things related to LGBTQ individuals.
Respect – Ask your teen how they would like to be addressed, and respect their pronoun preferences. Try not to favor them or treat them differently. Respect means embracing their identity regardless of their physical attributes.
Encourage – Encourage your child to be true to their inner voice. Help them find a community of like-minded people who may have shared interests or passions. Build a support group outside of therapy.
Principles of gender affirmative care
Seeking mental health care for a teen struggling with gender identity can be difficult. It is important your child feels comfortable and accepted, and receives gender affirmative care. Gender affirmative care means care that:
- Acknowledges the individual’s perception of their gender as being real – this is integral to providing gender affirmative care. Instead of the mental health professional assuming they are the “expert” on the client’s gender and identity, they support and encourage the individual’s own experiences of self.
- Does not assume or rush to conclusions – as a parent, watching your child struggle with gender identity can be hard. Often times, parents are seeking concrete answers from mental health professionals. Yet, gender identity is not something to be rushed. It is vital for the teen to have the time and space for their authentic gender to emerge naturally. There isn’t a fast answer. Those around the individual struggling with their gender identity may need to find ways to manage the discomfort of uncertainty.
- Celebrates the child’s strengths – questioning one’s gender is not a “problem.” But many teens think it is viewed in a negative light. It is so important to acknowledge the individual’s strengths and successes during this difficult time.
- Supports the child and family in navigating the fear – if a teen is struggling with gender identity, then most likely their loved ones have some fear. This fear stems from worry about how others will respond/react. It is important for mental health care providers to not only acknowledge these fears, but assist in navigating through them.
THE RIGHT HELP FOR YOUR TEEN
Treatment for gender dysphoria in teenagers is aimed at helping individuals live the way they want to live, which is in their preferred gender identity. Most treatments for teenagers are psychological, rather than surgical or medical. Yet, regardless of the specific therapeutic modalities, your teen’s treatment should include a multidisciplinary team. The team should be comprised of mental health counselors (with specialties in gender confusion and/or adolescents/teens) and medical professionals.
At the start of treatment, a comprehensive assessment will be conducted. The assessment examines emotional functioning, social and familial relationships, school achievement, health history, substance use, and current symptoms and stressors.
Once an assessment is completed, the treatment planning will begin. This process will vary from person to person. A treatment plan is tailored to the specific needs of each individual.
TEEN GENDER DYSPHORIA STATISTICS
– In a 2016 study, 30% of transgender youth attempted suicide at least once. 42% participated in self-injury. Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati
– 52% of children between 4 to 11 years old who have gender dysphoria have at least one other diagnosed condition. HRF
– In adolescents, about 75% of gender dysphoria will persist. SkepDoc
– 60% of transgender individuals reported having supportive families. 18% reported having unsupportive families. Trans Equality
A treatment plan for a teenager with gender dysphoria may include any or all of the following:
For teens with gender dysphoria, psychotherapy aims to help young people better understand themselves. This is achieved through clarifying and teaching them how to accept their gender identity. Individual therapy also supports teens in learning how to cope with the stress of gender dysphoria. This includes stigma related to the transgender and gender non-conforming community. The aim of therapy is to not only help the young person manage their distress, but also provide a supportive, confidential, and safe environment.
Family plays a vital role in the emotional well-being of teens with gender dysphoria. These teens can also present unique and complex challenges in the familial setting. Through therapy, a family unit can be strengthened. All members have the opportunity to be supported.
Participation in a therapeutic group can benefit teens with gender dysphoria. They gain support from peers in a safe and encouraging setting.
Psychoeducation for parents
Aimed at helping parents or caregivers better understand the transgender experience. This includes terminology and supportive language (appropriate pronoun use).
Regular reassessments – periodic re-assessments monitor the teen’s gender identity development. It evaluates if their social, emotional, and support needs are being met.