Transgender teenagers can face many challenges. A supportive family environment can help a young person who is questioning their gender by creating a safe space for them to explore their feelings and identity.
Hear from Ross Jacobs from QLife about how best to support your transgender or gender-questioning teen.
- Your teen coming to you with this likely means they trust you and would like your support. Celebrate their bravery and thank them for opening up to you.
- You aren’t expected to know everything about their transgender identity. Ask your teen to educate you about what they’re going through.
- This experience is likely having a significant impact on your teen’s mental health. Consider some immediate support options and then talk about long-term support once you both feel that your teen has what they need for the present.
Ask your teen about their mental health and wellbeing
As Ross says, some young transgender people may feel like their body is turning against them during adolescence. They’re going through physical changes that aren’t in line with how they view themselves and their gender identity. This experience can have quite a serious impact on their mental health.
Ask your teen directly about how they feel this experience is impacting their wellbeing. Are they struggling to get dressed in the morning? Has school been tough? Have they been feeling down or overwhelmed? It may feel like a relief to voice some of these feelings, and may help them see a need for support from you and others.
If your teen indicates they’re really struggling, it may be best to seek professional help.
Professional help could include:
- GPs or specialty nurses
- psychologists or counsellors
- peer workers
- digital support services like QLife, ReachOut PeerChat or eHeadspace.
The idea of speaking to a professional may feel daunting to a young transgender person, who may worry that they won’t be understood or accepted. Try searching for practitioners who are experienced in working with transgender people or whose practice is a safe space. Signs of a safe space may include a ‘welcome here’ logo on a practice’s website, the mention of pronouns, identity or prior work with queer people in the practitioners’ bios, or the space itself may feature books and posters with positive representations of transgender people.
Provide your teen with other support options
Embracing one’s transgender identity is a journey, so while addressing any immediate concerns is the priority, creating a strong support system for the long term will leave your teen better prepared for whatever they may face in the future.
Support can come in many forms, so encourage your teen to try different things so they can find what works best for them. This may include:
- connecting with others on online forums like the ReachOut Online Community
- joining a support group (find a list of transgender support groups here)
- speaking with friends, family, Elders or other trusted people in their circle
- sharing their needs with teachers, coaches or mentors.
Talk about transphobia
It’s natural to be worried about how the world will treat your teenager, and sadly, transgender people are often on the receiving end of transphobic comments and harassment. Talking about what transphobia is, how it looks, and when and where it can occur can help you to work through your fears and be prepared to offer your support.
Talking about transphobia may also help your teen to identify it, as transphobia isn’t always overt and even when it’s not directed at your teen it can still have a negative impact on their wellbeing.
Transgender people are often spoken about in the news, and a lot of this media coverage is harmful and transphobic. Don’t be afraid to speak about these news stories with your teen to give them space to vent or share their feelings. Remind them of their strengths and encourage them to seek support from their wider community.
Here are some other ways to support your teen in coping with transphobia:
- Listen to their worries and provide them with emotional support.
- Help them to report any instances of discrimination they encounter.
- Share resources that will help to build their coping skills.
- Encourage good wellbeing and healthy habits that build resilience.
Seek support for yourself
It’s easier to help others when you’re feeling healthy and happy yourself. Supporting your teenager through embracing their identity can be tough. You want the best for them, but you may also need to balance this with your own doubts or fears. By seeking support for yourself, you’re caring for both you and your teen.
Seeking support outside of traditional health care is great, but, as Ross says in the video, parents of transgender teens often need professional support to help them adjust to the change. If you’re unsure about where to start with seeking support for yourself, you can ask other parents for advice on the ReachOut Parents Forum or visit your GP.