Transgender and other gender diverse youth are struggling, but it does not have to be this way. Supporting youth in their gender makes an enormous difference.
Supporting Gender Diverse Youth
As we consider actions that support gender diverse youth, we need to keep in mind what’s at stake. According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019, more than 1/3 of transgender high school students attempted suicide in the past year. Suicidality is not the only risk factor these teens face: higher rates of disordered eating, increased use of drugs and alcohol, and higher rates of non-suicidal self-injury are all part of the risk profile for transgender youth as they try to cope with stigma and discrimination related to their gender.
A global study in 2018 found that by the age of ten all children have absorbed harmful gender stereotypes, noting that “perceived gender difference can have far-ranging, negative consequences for both sexes.” The study found that more rigid gender norms were linked with higher rates of depression, violence, and suicide risk.
A 2014 study by the Williams Institute (UCLA School of Law) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 45% of transgender youth aged 18-24 surveyed had attempted suicide -- 9 times higher than the national average; the rate is even higher for youth of color who face multiple forms of discrimination. But parental support makes a tremendous difference: a 2012 study found that transgender and non-binary teens who perceived that their parents support them in their gender were 93% less likely to attempt suicide than teens who did not perceive that they had support.
See our article "Supportive Parenting" for ways parents can affirm their children's gender journeys.
Of course, other adults outside the family make a difference as well. A 2015 study found that transgender and questioning students who have even a single accepting and understanding adult to go to are 2.3 times less likely to attempt suicide, 1.4 times less likely to be bullied at school, and 2.3 times less likely to be bullied electronically. Unfortunately, the study also found that these trans kids are less likely to have a supportive adult in their lives to go to than other children.
For parents of transgender and non-binary children and youth, we know that figuring out how to support your child can feel frightening and overwhelming. There’s so much at stake and you’re trying to manage the unique aspects (racial, cultural, social, religious, etc.) of your family while keeping everyone in the family safe and whole. As with any parent, you want to think that love for our child is enough. But the data is clear that love must demonstrate itself in tangible kinds of support for kids to experience to benefits of your love. The good news is that we know from the research that while there are no guarantees, there are specific actions you can take that make a tremendous different in the health and well-being of your child.
Johns Hopkins University, Gender stereotypes begin at age 10. Online at https://hub.jhu.edu/2018/09/07/gender-stereotypes-child-development/
TransPulse (2012), “Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth.” Online at http://transpulseproject.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Impacts-of-Strong-Parental-Support-for-Trans-Youth-vFINAL.pdf
Healthy Kids Colorado Survey 2015, cited in “Colorado study shows support for transgender students greatly reduces suicide risk.” The Denver Channel (2017). Online at https://www.thedenverchannel.com/lifestyle/health/colorado-study-shows-support-for-transgender-students-greatly-reduces-suicide-risk
Gender Spectrum Resources for Youth and Families
Gender Spectrum hosts online groups for parents, family members, other adults, pre-teens and teens that provide the opportunity to connect with others, share experiences, and feel the comfort of a supportive community.
The Lounge is our online community, a space for youth, parents, caregivers, and family members, and professionals to connect with each other and share questions, stories and more. Members can form their own groups and participate in our broader online community.
Gender Spectrum Conference
The Gender Spectrum Conference is for families with transgender, nonbinary and gender expansive children, with programs for parents, family members, young adults and children of all ages.
Key Takeaways and Other Resources
Key Takeaways for Policy Makers
- Gender inclusive environments benefit all children. Gender inclusion is life affirming for all children, and can be life-saving for some. Transgender and non-binary children and youth face tremendous challenges to their health and well-being. We must take all actions possible to mitigate the harming effects of stigma and discrimination.
- Supportive parenting practices have a tremendously positive impact on reducing suicide and other risks that transgender and non-binary children and youth face. We know the specific actions to be taken that make a difference.
- Supportive parents need supportive communities, schools, businesses and institutions. Policy proposals should aim to encourage gender inclusive practices throughout society.
- Many young people today are living their authentic gender, but there are still too many children and youth who suffer because some adults hold outdated notions of gender and fail to provide support for who they are.
- Policy makers should consider the implications for gender-diverse children, youth and their families when developing any policies that will affect young people or families.