Most young people grow up identifying themselves as boys or girls; they don’t question their gender; it was never an issue. However, it’s not the same for all young people growing up. There will be some young people worldwide, from all cultures and all parts of the world, that may ask questions about their gender preference.
There are thoughts like, “I’m a 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 they are born with is a mistake, and it’s causing distress. This is called gender dysphoria, or formerly known as gender identity disorder.
For all adolescents and parents who want answers about gender confusion issues, this brief guide can help you understand more about gender dysphoria and the best steps for teens and parents to deal with these issues.
What Is Gender Dysphoria?
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 who have gender identity confusion. They feel uncomfortable with their assigned gender at birth and may have feelings of distress because of the situation.
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 about it or do not think about it 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.
That is why this article is not only for adolescents seeking answers; it’s for parents too. Because parents play a big role in the outcome of this situation. The first piece of advice to parents is to have an awareness of the situation. For teens and parents who want answers have the right knowledge of the situation, the signs to look for, and the interventions to do.
Understanding The Terms Of Gender Identity Confusion
We often hear the words transgender, bisexual, and all that. What does it really mean? Here are some terms you need to understand:
- Bisexual: A person who is romantically and sexually attracted to both males or females.
- Gay: A general term referred 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: Are women who are romantically and sexually attracted to women.
- Transgender: Individuals who prefer a different sexual orientation, different from the gender assigned at birth.
- Gender Fluid: A person who does not have a fixed gender, undecided, and moves from one gender preference to another.
Gender Identity: Erik Erikson’s Theory
There is a scientific explanation behind the 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 in, and even gender. That is why during the puberty stage, it is prominent for some adolescents to ask questions about their gender identity. Adolescents find themselves finding 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 through knowing or establishing their true identity, which means knowing what their true gender preference is. If this stage is failed, 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.
Signs Of Gender Dysphoria In Young People
For teens, how will you know that you’re experiencing gender identity confusion? For parents, how do you look for signs of gender dysphoria 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.
- Others may 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.
Related: The Truth Behind Self-Harm
Advice For Young People Struggling With Gender Identity
For the transgender youth who are going through gender dysphoria, the best thing to do at this moment 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’re having fears to talk to them, talk to your guidance counselor at school. Talk to your trusted friends and tell them how you feel.
A young person is 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 gender assigned, seeking support is the best thing you can do.
Taking care of your mental health is the priority at this point. If you feel sad all the time, seek support from the people you love. It might be the best and biggest step to help in seeking answers for your gender identity. Do not let peer pressure, bullying, and discrimination get the best of you.
Advice For Parents
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 at this point, carefully consider your child’s mental wellness. Here’s what you can do:
Have An Open Conversation With Your Child
When talking to your child about gender identity issues, there are three things to remember: have an open mind, actively listen, and try to accept. Set aside personal judgments and any negative feelings.
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, support and help. Be prepared for what your child might say. This is better than your child keeping secrets from you and crying behind your back, right? You don’t want your kids secretly using puberty blockers that may be harmful to their health, right?
Consult With A Doctor
There is some transgender youth who are thinking about treatment to have their primary and secondary sexual characteristics changed. There are puberty blockers, hormone therapy treatment, or gender reassignment surgery. If your child is convinced to pursue these, because this what makes them happy, and if you want to support this, consult a medical doctor first. It is best to know the pros and cons of these treatments if they are safe for a child and adolescent. This is a big step and must be thought out well.
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 be 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 multidisciplinary mental health approach. Teenagers find it hard to come up with a decision because of the questions they’re seeking answers to. The priority at this moment is to help your child cope with their distressing feelings and prioritize their mental well-being.
Mental Health Treatment for Gender Dysphoria
The treatment for gender dysphoria requires multiple mental health disciplinary approaches. It may be initial therapy or a combination of two therapies or more. 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 there are 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 Telehealthcare services for Family Therapy, Marriage Counseling, LGBTQ Counseling, Depression Counseling, and many more. You can book an appointment now with KCC Direct Services.