Welcome to the The Cap – our very own recap series of the topics and trends impacting teens and tweens today dedicated to keeping the common parent in the know.
📮 In today's Issue, we cover the journey that some individuals experience with gender as a part of self identity:
Disclaimer: Gender Fluidity is a deep and ever-evolving subject. While this may not be your child's experience, it is a reality for those around them. And, as a parent, you will most likely know or come across someone with a child who is gender fluid.
Gender identity is extremely personal and specific to each individual, so there is no standard definition for gender fluidity. Gender identity is about how someone perceives themselves versus who they're sexually attracted to. It's important not to confuse gender identity with sexual preference.
A gender fluid person doesn't have a fixed gender identity or gender expression. Rather, it is a type of nonbinary gender identity that can fluctuate between male and female daily, weekly, monthly…and may even shift over the course of several years.
For some, gender fluidity is about how they identify their gender while for others it's about how they express their gender. Here are a few gender expression terms to be aware of:
- Cisgender - a person's gender identity matches their sex designated at birth
- Nonbinary - a person's gender identity cannot be defined as exclusively male or exclusively female
- Transgender - a person identifies as different from the sex assigned on their birth certificate.
A growing number of children and teens report having different gender identities or expressions than the sex assigned to them at birth. There is also emerging evidence that people who identify as sexual and gender minorities (SGM) experience elevated rates of depression, anxiety, suicidality, and trauma exposure when compared to their cisgender peers, especially if they are concealing their identities.
- 🚩 Teens who are gay, transgender or questioning their gender identity are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers.
- 🚩 Teens with non-supportive families are 8x as likely to attempt suicide.
For some teenagers, gender fluidity is a way to experiment with both sides of gender expression by moving between genders. If your teen is struggling with their gender identity or their sexual preferences, they may opt for gender fluidity to figure out where (or if) they land on both fronts.
🔍 Some examples of gender fluid expression can include:
- Behavior - experimenting with body language and vocal changes in how they move and speak.
- Gender-Neutral Choices - such as dressing androgynous, hair and facial hair choices and/or experimenting with makeup to avoid a male or female distinction.
- Changing Appearance - they start to get rid of or change the physical signs of their assigned sex and/or start portraying those of a different sex.
- Importance of Pronouns - they ask you to call them by a different name and/or use a different pronoun like ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.
- Gender Dysphoria - they feel strongly that their gender identity differs from the sex they were given at birth or they feel unsure/uncomfortable with the sex they were assigned and how others perceive them.
It's important to understand that for some, gender can exist on a spectrum. It is also very normal to see a child experiment with gender as they establish their sense of self throughout adolescence.
Make no mistake about it. Children struggling with gender identity desperately need the love and support of their families. Although it may be contrary to how it feels at times, most teens and tweens want their parent’s approval.
As parents and guardians, here are some ways to support them:
- Create a safe place. Don't allow slurs or belittling words in your home or environments you control.
- Stay calm. Avoid knee-jerk reactions and supercharged emotions about your teen or tween's revelation.
- Take time. Don’t react right away. Take a step back and take time to digest the news so you can come back from a place of curiosity and support.
- Educate yourself. Learn about what it means to be transgender, gender fluid and nonbinary so you are speaking the same language.
- Acknowledge your emotions. Understand that it's normal to experience a wide range of emotions yourself…from suspicion to relief to loss, sadness and even anger.
- Seek support. Confide in a close friend and if you need professional support, talk to qualified mental health provider. While a change in sexual identity can be challenging for the teen or tween, it is often difficult for the parents, too.
- Stay aware & check-in. Watch for signs of depression or suicidal thoughts in your child. If you suspect your teen is struggling, turn to a mental health professional to guide you and your child throughout the journey.
You may not understand what your teenager is experiencing, but you can make it clear that whatever happens, they have your love and support to see them through.
“Studies show that the earlier kids can come into who they are, the suicide rates come down, the poor mental health outcomes come down, the more connected they feel to others, the more belonged they feel in their community, at school and in their family”, Jake Ernst, MSW, RSW.
❤️ Being supportive of your child's journey with gender is a profound opportunity to show them what unconditional love and support from a parent really looks and feels like in practice. It creates a foundational trust and strength they can build upon for the rest of their life.
♂️♀️Gender fluid experimenting and expression does not have to be all or nothing. Some things may be big but temporary. Some may be small but permanent. Keep talking to your teen and in doing so, you can help them figure out if their gender fluidity is merely experimentation or if there's something deeper going on so that choices they make are founded on what they really want and who they really are.
Regardless of the outcome, teens and tween who have loving, supportive parents fare far better than those who have to go through it alone.
Be on the journey with them.
Click the link below to check out The Common Parent's exclusive interview with Jake Ernst, MSW, RSW on “Gender Identity and Pronouns”.
Sources on Gender Identity & Fluidity:
Founders of The Common Parent: Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer (Cat & Nat)
The Cap Contributors: Catherine Belknap, Natalie Telfer, Kelly Kresen, Cath Tassie, Lauren Bechard and Allie Coughlin
Special Thanks to Jake Ernst, MSW, RSW
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The contents of The Cap and The Common Parent platforms, portals and emails (the "Content") are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, therapy, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your situation.