Most young people grow up identifying themselves as boys or girls. They don’t question their gender; it is never an issue. However, it’s not the same for all young people growing up. Some young people worldwide, from all cultures and parts of the world, may ask questions about their gender preference.
There are thoughts like, “I’m female at birth. It is my assigned gender, but I feel like I’m trapped in a body that will not make me happy.” Adolescents with gender identity confusion feel like the gender assigned to the sex they were born with is a mistake, and it’s causing them distress. This is called gender dysphoria, formerly known as gender identity disorder.
This brief guide can help adolescents and parents who want answers understand more about gender dysphoria and the best steps for teens and parents to deal with these issues.
Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis identified by the American Psychiatric Association under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is defined as a feeling of distress or discomfort in individuals with gender identity confusion. They feel uncomfortable with their assigned gender at birth and may have feelings of distress because of this.
Not all adolescents who experience gender identity confusion have gender dysphoria. For some, the feelings of gender confusion start at an early age. Not all teenagers who are confused about their gender experience distress or do not think about the issue too much.
If questions about their identity are causing stress, anxiety, or depression, then this is considered gender dysphoria. Some teenagers also experience gender dysphoria because of bullying, discrimination related to issues of being transgender, and gender-nonconforming communities. Also, there is the fear of being reprimanded by their parents or judged by their family members.
These are some of the reasons why this article is not only for adolescents seeking answers. It’s also for parents who seek to understand what their child is going through, since they play a big role in the outcome of this situation. The first piece of advice to parents is to be aware of the situation. Teens and parents who want answers need to have the right knowledge of the situation, the signs to look for, and the interventions that can help treat or manage the problem.
We often hear words like “transgender” or “bisexual,” but what do they really mean? Here are some terms you need to understand:
- Bisexual – A person who is romantically and sexually attracted to both males and females
- Gay – A general term referring to both males and females who are attracted to people of the same sex. Bisexuals, gays, lesbians, and transgender people are referred to as gay people
- Lesbian – A woman who is romantically and sexually attracted to women
- Transgender – An individual who prefers a different sexual orientation, one that is different from the gender assigned at birth
- Gender fluid – A person who does not have a fixed gender, is undecided, and moves from one gender preference to another
There is a scientific explanation behind gender identity confusion among adolescents. The theory of Erik Erikson, Stages of Psychosocial Development, explains the eight stages of development in life. The fifth stage among adolescents (12–19 years of age) is the Identity vs. Role Confusion Stage.
This is where young people are confused about their identity, role in society, the social circle they want to belong to, and even gender. That is why during the puberty stage, it is quite common for some adolescents to ask questions about their gender identity. Adolescents find themselves looking for answers about themselves, who they are attracted to, and other life choices.
Adolescents must identify their gender preference so they would know their role in society. The Identity vs. Role Confusion Stage must be accomplished by knowing or establishing their true identity, which means knowing their true gender preference. If the adolescent fails this stage or the teen becomes confused, problems may arise in the future and may fail in achieving the next developmental stage, which is Intimacy vs. Isolation.
For teens, how will you know that you’re experiencing gender identity confusion? For parents, what signs of gender dysphoria do you look for in your teenager? Here are the signs to look for in teenagers experiencing gender dysphoria:
- Feelings of uncertainty about their gender preference
- Prefers to be recognized as different from the gender assigned at birth
- Wants to change their primary and secondary characteristics, like boys not wanting to have a mustache or girls not wanting fuller breasts
- Has the desire to use puberty blockers or hormone treatment to stop hormone production produced during puberty
- Starts to wear clothes different from their gender, like girls wearing boyish clothes or teenage boys using make-up. This may start during early childhood.
- Appears to be anxious in social situations because of the fear of being bullied or discriminated against
- Not wanting to participate in gender-specific activities
- Shows signs of depression, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts because of gender confusion
For the transgender youth going through gender dysphoria, the best thing to do now is to seek support. The first people you can talk to are your parents. No one in this world will understand you the most but your parents. If you fear talking to them, talk to your guidance counselor at school. Talk to your trusted friends and tell them how you feel.
Young people are not expected to make life-changing decisions at this point in their lives, so there is no timeline to decide who you really are. If you experience bullying or discrimination at school because you act differently from your assigned gender, seeking support is the best thing you can do.
Taking care of your mental health should be your priority at this point. Do not let peer pressure, bullying, and discrimination get the best of you. If you feel sad all the time, seek support from the people you love. It might be the best and most helpful step in seeking answers for your gender identity.
For parents, if you see signs of gender dysphoria in your teenager, approach the situation carefully. At this point, your kid needs understanding, acceptance, and support. Know the best steps to take, and carefully consider your child’s mental wellness. Here are some things you can do:
There are three things to remember when talking to your child about gender identity issues: have an open mind, actively listen, and try to be accepting.
Set aside personal judgments and any negative feelings you may initially have after listening to them. Stay calm, let your child talk first, and allow them to let their feelings out. Let your child feel that you are there to talk to, support, and help them.
Be prepared for what your child might say. Opening up to you is better than your child keeping secrets from you and crying behind your back. You don’t want your kids secretly using puberty blockers that may be harmful to their health, so it would be good if your child feels safe and honored when they talk to you.
Some transgender youth are considering treatment to change their primary and secondary sexual characteristics. This can be accomplished through puberty blockers, hormone therapy treatment, or gender reassignment surgery.
If your child wants to go for one or two of these because they believe this will make them happy, consult a medical doctor first. Getting more than one opinion would be ideal. It is best to know the pros and cons of these treatments if they are safe for a child or adolescent. This is a big step and must be thought out well.
3. Seek Help from a Mental Health Professional
Other transgender children find it hard to open up to their parents. If this is the case, have your teen evaluated by a mental health professional like a counselor or therapist. It’s in your child’s best interest to talk to a mental health professional to find answers to the questions that have been bothering them.
Gender dysphoria in children and adolescents requires a multi-pronged mental health approach. Teenagers find it hard to decide because they still need answers to their questions. The priority at this moment is to help your child cope with their distressing feelings and prioritize their mental well-being, so it’s best to see a mental health expert for answers and guidance.
Mental Health Treatment for Gender Dysphoria
The treatment for gender dysphoria requires a multi-pronged mental health approach. The therapist may initially choose one form of therapy or a combination of two or more therapies, depending on their assessment of the client. These are the therapies used by counselors or therapists to address gender dysphoria for teenagers, parents, and family members:
- Individual psychotherapy or talk therapy for gender identity issues
- Psychiatric medication (if the person has symptoms of depression or other mental health disorders)
- Family therapy for the whole family
- For parents, individual or couple’s therapy
- Connecting to support groups
Talk to a Therapist Now
If you’re from the Kentucky or Ohio area and you’re looking for a counselor or therapist online, Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) is at your service. KCC offers telehealth care services such as family therapy, marriage counseling, LGBTQ counseling, depression counseling, and many more. You can book an appointment now with KCC Direct Services.