12-22-2021 09:38 AM
My 13-year old daughter came to me a year ago and said she thinks she wants to be a boy. She said these feelings started the previous year (the start of the pandemic). I am being as supportive as I can with her cutting her hair short and wearing boyish clothing. She is going by a different name and using he/him pronouns with her group of friends and with 2 of her 6 teachers. She says she is not ready for me to yet because she's not quite comfortable enough. I worry that this being a different person for different people is going to cause her even more confusion about who she is. Her friends are starting to pull away from her, bonding more with each other and leaving her out. She doesn't want to do anything but sit on her ipad and draw or watch movies/shows/tiktok/youtube. It's all very difficult for me to watch because she is such a sweet, loving, sensitive child and only wants to be accepted. She is in therapy but we just started so it's too soon to tell. This is such a tough age already, but I feel this is becoming serious because she is so depressed and withdrawn and we can't seem to get past it. If anyone has gone through a similar situation, I'd greatly appreciate some advice. I'm more concerned about her low self-esteem than I am about her gender confusion. Or is one causing the other? I'm at a loss!
You seem like a very caring and supportive parent and it is lovely to hear you describe your child as sweet and loving. It is understandable that it is really difficult for you at the moment, wanting to be able to ease their distress and being limited in how much you can help.*
It’s really great that you have been able to access therapy for them. You’re right that it can take a little while to begin to notice positive changes from therapy, and to identify whether it is helpful. It can be even harder for parents of teens, balancing being supportive of the teen’s need for privacy and also wanting to make sure they have access to the right support. It can be helpful to keep the lines of communication open by letting your child know that if they ever want to talk about how they are finding therapy, you are happy to talk about this with them (and this wouldn’t mean that they would need to tell you what they discuss in therapy).
You mention you’re not sure if your teen’s low-self esteem relates to their gender diversity - that can be tricky to know, because everyone is an individual. Gender diverse teens are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, and their experiences of stigma, discrimination and not feeling accepted are a factor in this. However, teens of all genders can experience periods of low mood or anxiety, and gender is only one aspect of individual identity. Working out what is causing their low mood may be something your child can explore in therapy.
The most helpful thing you can do is continue to focus on being supportive in all aspects of your child’s life. This includes things you are already doing - like using the correct pronouns and supporting their decisions on clothing, and making sure they have access to further support via therapy, and continuing to let them know you love them. It can also be really helpful to ask them if they have any ideas on how they would like to be supported by you.
You mention that they are spending a lot of time watching movies/shows etc. This is pretty common when someone’s mood is low - it's an activity which does not take a lot of energy, and can help distract from upsetting thoughts. If you’re looking for ways to connect, you could ask about watching something together.
This allows you to spend time with each other, but doesn’t create pressure to talk about things (which they may not feel like doing) and also lets them know you care about what they are interested in (I’d suggest that your teen pick the show to watch). Of course, not every teen will say yes to this idea, but even the suggestion shows caring and can help them feel supported and less alone.
You mention being worried that using different pronouns in different contexts will be confusing for your child. It’s understandable that you want to make sure that they don’t experience any further stress when they are having a tough time. Actually, the best approach is to continue to let them decide what they are most comfortable with in terms of pronouns, and there’s no reason to think this will make them feel confused - they may be still working out aspects of their identity and how they want to express it, and giving them space to do so can help them work out their thoughts and feelings and be beneficial to their wellbeing.
Being the parent of a teen can be really emotionally demanding, and this is much more the case when they are going through a tough time, so I also encourage you to think about what you do in order to look after yourself. Whether it’s talking with a friend, exercise, listening to music or something entirely different, it’s important that you prioritise taking breaks from focusing on your child to also recharge your own batteries, so that you can stay well and continue to have the energy to support them.
*A note about pronouns: I’ve used they/them pronouns in my response as I am not sure if your young person would prefer me to use she/her as you do, or he/him as some other people in their life do. I want to acknowledge it’s an imperfect approach, and my usual approach would be to check in with the person directly regarding this.
Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.
12-24-2021 10:38 PM
12-25-2021 03:54 PM - edited 12-25-2021 03:56 PM
Hey @Cay123 thank you for sharing your experiences here with us on the forums. It’s so great to hear about our community members' experiences as they are so helpful for other users who come across threads looking for suggestions or information !
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