Family’s Role in Supporting Teen Gender Transition

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Growing up is hard enough when you’re a neurotypical cisgender adolescent with a heterosexual sexual orientation. Things get way more complicated when your gender identity doesn’t fall within the gender binary. According to estimates from a report published in 2022 by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law:

  • Over 1.6 million adults (ages 18 and older) and youth (ages 13 to 17) identify as transgender in the United States, or 0.6% of those ages 13 and older.
  • Research shows transgender individuals are younger on average than the U.S. population. We find that youth ages 13 to 17 are significantly more likely to identify as transgender (1.4%) than adults ages 65 or older (0.3%).

With more and more young folks coming out as transgender or non-binary, it is very important that these teens feel supported and loved by their families. The family plays an important role in helping young people understand themselves, other people, and society as a whole. When there is poorer family functioning and the system is less supportive and nurturing, children experience higher rates f mental health struggles and have worse psychosocial outcomes (Westwater, Riley, & Peterson, 2019).

The Power of Emotional Support: Understanding and Acceptance

Research shows that trans youth who have supportive immediate and extended families experience a 52% reduction in suicidal thoughts and a 46% decrease in suicide attempts. Unfortunately only about 27% of trans youth say their family are supportive and fewer than half report that they have at least one adult in their life that they can turn to if they are feeling sad or overwhelmed (Movement Advancement Project).

What does being a supportive parent and family look like for a transgender teen? If you were to survey a thousand gender diverse children and ask them what their families could do to show they are supportive of their gender identity, they might tell you…

  1. Use their preferred/chosen name. Even if they change it a few times. Changing one’s name does not mean that they are uncertain. It just means they are still figuring out what they want to be called.
  2. Honor their pronouns both at home and in the community. If your kid has multiple pronouns, it’s okay to ask them how they want those pronouns to be used and if they have one that they prefer.transgender teen parent blog
  3. Ask them before outing them to family and friends. “Outing” is when someone tells another person about someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation without that person’s approval and permission. Being outed can be incredibly difficult and sometimes traumatic for folks. Allow your young person to take the lead when it comes to coming out to extended family and friends. Always ask them first.
  4. Remember that gender is fluid. Do not assume that just because they are transitioning from one part of the binary that your child is going to transition directly to the other part of the binary. Gender identity and expression is and can be fluid.
  5. Most importantly, trust that your kid knows who they are and what it is like to be in their body. Allowing kids to have body autonomy is important for everyone, not just transgender people.

Navigating Psychological Support: Mental Health and Counseling

Identifying as transgender does not automatically mean that someone is going to have mental health struggles. Many of the mental health struggles that trans children face today are related to systemic issues ranging from bullying to book-banning to bans on gender affirming medical care.

In a study done by the National Council on Family Relations, data shows that the mental health of socially transitioned transgender youth growing up in affirming households has revealed normative or only slightly elevated rates of symptoms related to anxiety and depression. The ability to use one’s chosen name in various contexts, including at home with their families and in school with their peers, has been associated with lower rates of depression, suicidal ideation/suicidal behavior and overall better mental health outcomes among transgender youth.

If young trans people are provided with safe and supportive environments, the trauma that may be caused from outside forces related to their identity is reduced dramatically. Allowing kids to fully express themselves both at home and school and in the community (also known as social transition) is essential for childhood development for all young people, not just trans youth specifically.

If your child is showing signs of depression or anxiety or any other mental health concerns, then it can be very important to get them to a therapist. Finding a health professional and a therapist who is competent in both gender and sexuality is essential, especially when working with young people who are questioning their sexuality or gender, experiencing gender dysphoria, etc.

DON’T PANIC!!!! If your child is asking to go to therapy to talk about gender, it does not automatically mean that they are going to transition; it means that they are curious and want to explore more about who they are – it could also mean that you have a transgender child, and that’s okay!

How Parental Support Affects Mental Health of LGBTQ Youth

A study out of the University of Texas and Austin studied the positive and negative effects of support from parents and Guardians on LGBTQIA youth mental health. The study showed that “parent support and parent control were both influential in predicting youth depressive symptoms” (Healthline, 2023).

The study also indicated that youth who were not out to their parents experienced greater impact by parental support or control than those who were out. When asked why parental support might result in fewer depressive symptoms, while more negative psychological control had the opposite impact, they stated that the key reasons lie in the fact that support from one’s parent might “help youth cope with stress,” while psychological control “may restrict youth development and independence” (Healthline, 2023).

So, as parents and guardians, how can you be a better source of support for your young people? Remember, you don’t have to be the expert to support your kids. All you have to do is show up and listen to them. As a parent or caregiver, talking with your kid respectfully about their LGBTQ identity will significantly reduce their mental health symptoms and suicidality.

Educating the Family: Resources and Learning

Having kids isn’t easy! They are tiny little sentient beings that go from thinking you are the best thing in the world to being a moody teenager. Parenting kids is hard enough when you don’t have to worry about the anxiety of parenting a kid who might be trans. With the world we live in today, it makes sense why, as a parent, having a kid come out would feel difficult and terrifying and maybe even life-ending. Imagine what it’s like being that kid feeling all those same fears as they try and figure out their life and what’s going on in their head.parent support group blog

It’s okay to struggle when your kid first comes out. There’s a lot of questions, there’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of: What happens next?! The best piece of advice that I can give to parents is for parents to find a supportive community. One way to do that is through a specific support group such as Sentier’s Support For Parents of Trans and Non-Binary Teens/Adolescents group.

It is so important to find a space for you that has other parents who understand so that you can talk about all of your feelings related to your kid’s gender in a place that is not in front of your kids. In a support group, parents can process things like their child’s social transition, how to help teens manage gender dysphoria, needed medical care, as well as the everyday highs and lows of parenting teens.

So many parents process their feelings of grief and loss and their struggles with their gender diverse children, which is not good for the kids. Doing this puts the kids in an incredibly awkward position of having to support their parents and this can lead to increased gender dysphoria and other mental health symptoms. Kids may then withdraw or even change their minds about coming out. If kids feel like their parents don’t get it or that their parents aren’t safe to talk to, then those kids are going to withdraw and talk to other people.

Here are some resources for parents looking for more support and may be interested in a parent support group.

  • Transforming Families
  • Mn Trans Health Coalition
  • Family Tree Clinic
  • Children’s Hospital Gender Health Care

Remember, parents, you are not alone, and many parents in similar situations have come before you. Finding community is going to be essential. It’s going to provide support for you as a family and connect your kid to other families that look like theirs. We all do better when we have each other.

If your kid is coming out to you, it means they feel safe enough with you to share who they really are with you. I know that a child coming out can bring up a lot of fear, but it is also a place of connectedness and safety. If your kid feels safe enough to share with you possibly one of the biggest secrets in their life, they are letting you into their world.

The best thing you can do as a parent is figure out how to love your kid for who they are right now and who they might become. If you can’t fully embrace it right away, that is okay. That is your cue to go and get the help and support that you need to adequately help your child through their journey…one that is lifelong!


Find community for yourself.

Find other parents whose kids are going through similar experiences.

You’ve got this!

This blog was written by Sentier therapist Ashley Groshek, LMFT.



Advancing Acceptance. LGBTMAP. Acceptance Infographic FINAL.pdf

Mastroianni, B. (2023, March 3). How parental support affects mental health of LGBTQ youth. Healthline.

New estimates show 300,000 youth ages 13-17 identify as transgender in the US. Williams Institute. (2022, June 21).




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