Gender exploration and the exploration of sexual orientation is a perfectly normal stage of adolescent development. Parents can best support their children by responding with warmth, openness and engagement. Gender identity is not fixed during adolescence and so it is helpful if parents encourage exploration and avoid cementing teenage identities. Although parents might be keen to speak, teenagers often feel less inclined to talk to their parents – hence the banged doors and rolled eyes – as they are beginning the process of separation from their parents. If the teenager is troubled and seems isolated then it is advisable to search for an appropriate and experienced therapist who can help the teenager to navigate these issues.
If the teenager is willing to speak with the parent then the following points could be helpful:
- Teenagers should be able to express their identity without feeling the weight of society’s repressive expectations around gender.
- Teenagers might seem to change their personality and engage with others in new and unusual ways in a bid to explore their identity. This can seem inauthentic however it is a valid way to try out different sides of their personality.
- It is common for adolescents to rebel against parental (and societal) expectations. This might be expressed with clothing, piercings, tattoo and declaring certain identities.
- The teenage identity is transient and exploring this identity is an important aspect of adolescent development.
- Puberty and the development of secondary sex characteristics can be very distressing for many adolescents. Teenage girls tend to find early onset puberty very challenging.
- The sexualisation of young girls can make many girls feel intimidated and repulsed by their identity and in response they might try to dress down and seek to look less attractive. In the extreme they might reject being a girl and seek to become a boy.
- Puberty can also bring on a cycle of self-loathing as the teenager may hate the changes to their body; they might feel the body they know is betraying them and becoming a body they don’t know and don’t feel comfortable with. This body alienation has manifested with anorexia, bulimia, self-harming in previous generations.
- Girls who don’t feel sufficiently feminine and boys who don’t feel sufficiently masculine may feel motivated to abandon their biological sex and instead seek to swop over to the other sex.
- Girls who have previously enjoyed expressing the more masculine aspects of their personality and boys who have enjoyed their femininity can feel societal expectations to transition and thereby conform to gender norms.
- Bullying is common among gender non-conforming youth.
- Homophobic bullying is also common in adolescence and internalised homophobia can contribute to the teenager’s desire to transition.
This resource was compiled for The Countess by a registered psychotherapist in the field.