During Pride Month we affirm our commitment to support the LGBTQI+ community and celebrate generations of people who have fought for equality, justice, and inclusion.
It is important to recognize and respect the gender identity of children and adolescents. Dr. Amanda Jacobs, adolescent medicine specialist, talks about how parents can navigate the topic of gender identity with their children.
“Most children have an innate sense of their gender. Even those who identify as transgender report knowing their gender identity by age 8 or 9 years old,” Dr. Jacobs explained. Children explore their thoughts and feelings, including gender identity, through play. Often, these explorations are experimental and playful. Before starting puberty, children can have fluid ideas about their gender identity that may change over time. After puberty, children may have a more fixed sense of their gender identity.
Gender identity can be discussed with children at almost any age. Parents may want to start by talking about their own gender or the gender expressions of people on a TV show. “As we find ourselves in an evolving culture, be aware of the messages about gender expectations we received in our childhood. We all carry different perspectives and biases. Be aware of yours when speaking with your child,” advises Dr. Jacobs.
Adolescents who are transgender may feel isolated, confused, or guilty that something is wrong with them. Parents of these children often feel lost and may not have the tools they need to help their child. These children and parents should seek support from their pediatrician as well as an experienced therapist to guide them through their feelings and help them navigate this transition. Transgender identity is not a mental illness. However, children and families who are intensely exploring their gender may need additional support. Delaying and taking a “wait-and-see” approach withholds this support and may contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.
At Boston Children’s Health Physicians, we are here to help. If you have questions or concerns about your child, please reach out to your pediatrician. They will help guide you and, if needed, refer you to our gender-affirming specialist for more information, resources, and/or gender-affirming care.