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Parents Resource: Helping Parents Understand Teenage Gender Identity and Sexuality

During the teen years, it’s common for adolescents to start exploring their sexuality. They’re trying to figure out their place in the world, and they are adjusting to new hormones and sexual desires.

Some teens go through this process without issue. Others might struggle with their gender identity and their sexual orientation.

As the parent of a teen, it’s important that you understand teenage gender identity and sexuality.

Common terms for sexual identification

Some common terms have held steady over the years, and others have changed. Words may have changed meaning since you were a teen, or new words may have entered into the teen language.

Examples of common terms for sexual identification:

Heterosexual: You are sexually attracted to the opposite biological sex.

Homosexual: You are sexually attracted to the same biological sex.

Bi-sexual: You are sexually attracted to both biological sexes.

Asexual: You don’t tend to react sexually to others. You might even have a low sex drive.

Queer: You don’t necessarily feel sexual attraction to any specific subset of people. Queer sexual identification often coincides with a gender identity other than cisgender.

There are more terms out there. However, these are the most common terms used by today’s teens and tweens. As your teen starts developing sexual feelings towards others, they might fluctuate between some of these sexual identities.

Common terms for gender identification

Again, some terms are the same as they’ve been for decades. Others have shifted. These are some of the most common terms for gender identification that are regularly used by teens today:

Cisgender: Your gender identity matches your biological sex.

Transgender: Your gender identity is the opposite of your biological sex.

Gender Fluid: Your gender identity shifts between the genders.

Non-Binary: Your gender identity doesn’t specifically match either biological sex.

More terms can describe gender identity, but these are the most common terms that you will likely hear from your teen.

It is important to note that even though most people are born with either male or female anatomy, some people are born intersex. Intersex people have features of both male and female anatomies.

For intersex teens, gender identity and sexual identity can be especially complicated. Your child needs to know that you will support them in figuring out and expressing their gender identity and sexual identity.

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender Dysphoria occurs when someone feels distressed about their gender identity. Some teens feel comfortable in their skin, even if their gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex.

However, some teens and tweens experience significant stress and anxiety around their gender.

The signs of gender dysphoria in teens include:

  1. Saying that they feel like a different gender than they have experienced in life thus far

  2. Asking you to call them by pronouns that don’t match their biological sex

  3. Asking you to call them by a new name that doesn’t resonate with their biological sex

  4. Saying that they feel like a part of their body shouldn’t be there or that they are missing a part of their body (i.e., feeling like they shouldn’t have a penis or breasts)

  5. Experiencing social anxiety

  6. Feeling anxious around peers of the same biological sex

  7. Experiencing teen depression or feeling isolated from their peers

  8. Engaging in self-harming or reckless behaviors

Addressing gender dysphoria in teens

If you think that your teen might be experiencing gender dysphoria, there are some steps that you can take to help them reconcile their gender identity.

Above all, make sure that your child knows that you love and support them no matter what. Teens who experience anxiety about their gender identity or sexual orientation are often worried about whether or not their family will accept them. Your child will succeed in addressing their tough feelings if they can trust you to help them through it.

Talk to them about their feelings

When parents talk to their kids about sex and gender, both parties can feel a little awkward. Press through the awkward feelings and have those conversations anyway. If you keep the door to communication open, they are more likely to walk through it again when they need to.

Learn about issues that affect them

If your teen is struggling with their gender identity or sexual identity, research the issues that affect them. You might not get it perfectly, but try to learn more about the correct terminology and how it’s used.

Learn about legislation that could affect them if they aren’t cisgender and heterosexual. Your teen will likely notice your efforts and appreciate that you’re trying to understand them more.

Get therapeutic help for them

Many teens who experience gender dysphoria benefit from professional therapeutic help. By talking to a therapist or psychologist, the teen gets a neutral third-party perspective. They get to talk to someone experienced in dealing with teen gender and sexuality issues who can help them grasp their identity and feel comfortable being themselves.

When choosing a therapist for your teen, be picky. Your teen needs to talk to someone who will help them learn more about themselves and gain a better sense of self. They also need to be proficient in working with teenagers, which is different from working with adults. Check with the therapist beforehand to ensure that they will provide the type of support your teen needs.

Some teens that are experiencing gender dysphoria benefit from attending a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens. While at the school, the students still attend class and receive high school credits, but they also get to engage in a personalized treatment plan to help them address their gender concerns.

At Sundance Canyon Academy, our therapists are experienced in working with teen boys experiencing a variety of gender-based anxieties. Call us at 866-224-2733 for more information about our school.

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