Signs & Symptoms

Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation

Is your child questioning gender or sexual orientation?

A person’s identity is an important part of development. Identity contributes to self-esteem, to visualizing one’s place in the world and to seeing one’s self as different from our parents. Identity begins to emerge very young but is an important component of childhood and an even more important component of adolescence. From this perspective, gender identity also plays a critical role in development.

As psychologists, we wish to support the development of successful relationships, high self-esteem and acceptance of one’s own sense of self. Within this context, it is important to look at gender identity and sexual orientation, not as a psychological problem, but as a part of identity formation that can be impacted greatly by the social views and perspectives that surround the individual.

For example, a child who is questioning identity or identifies as gay may be supported and nurtured in some environments and may be rejected, bullied and isolated in other environments. Rejection can lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation or self-harm.

Children who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning/ Queer (GLBTQ) have approximately twice the rate of suicidal ideation, compared to the general population [1]. This rate tends to increase dramatically when these individuals are bullied or victimized [1] for gender or sexual orientation differences.

In many contexts, identity is a huge part of psychological development, and many times identity formation can be a painful process that very much requires support and nurturing from a family and a community. Understanding these concerns brings to light the importance of creating ‘safe spaces’ in which all children are included and are allowed to be themselves.

These are children’s lives, not ‘controversial’ issues.

At Clear Child Psychology and cleape.com, we believe that our job as adults is to empower children from diverse populations to feel safe, supported, and enabled to pursue their dreams on their own terms. This sentiment is well described here,

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity deserve a safe and supportive environment, in which to achieve their full potential.” Harvey Milk [8]

What do challenges with Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation look like?

  • Questioning why he was born a boy?
  • A girl who plays with trucks and hates dresses?
  • A boy with a pink backpack and red nail polish?
  • A teen girl who is not attracted to boys?
  • Feeling sad and withdrawn – won’t go to the dance?
  • Struggling to fit in at school – feels not boyish enough?
  • Identifying with a GLTBQ peer group?
  • Questioning sexual orientation?
  • Questioning gender identity?

Why is Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation happening?

Kids may dress more masculine or feminine than people expect. This situation is fine and is no cause for concern. Those children, teenagers and adults who may identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual or transgender and do not feel distress would also not have a concern here. The symptom described here refers to feelings of distress related to gender identity or sexuality. Research shows that many individuals grappling with identity related to gender and sexual orientation feel distress related to treatment in school, treatment at home, or judgment in the community. It is important to recognize this concern and provide a person with support as they face such issues. In particular, open dialogue about sexuality with all teens is important for development.

How can I manage Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation at home?

The important thing for families to know is that the family’s reaction to a child with these challenges can be paramount in terms of the child’s overall well-being, resilience, and happiness. That is, family members who are open and accepting of their children’s values and beliefs about themselves are fostering resilience. Research shows that this resilience can guard against the suicidality and self-harm that is common in this population [1]. A large scale study found the following:

“Now the first longitudinal study to look at suicide ideation and self-harm in this population shows support from friends and family offers the most protection in preventing youths from thinking about suicide. Adolescents who know they can talk to their parents about problems and know they have friends who care about them are less likely to consider ending their lives”  

Be open and supportive: Allowing your child a safe place to share concerns, fears, and his or her own sense of identity can go a long way to help your child thrive.

Be patient: Your child may be unsure for a long time about issues of gender and sexual orientation. Most children with gender identity issues report that they knew from a fairly young age that they did not identify with their assigned gender. However, a child may wait for years to reveal decisions regarding gender or sexual orientation. Just as with other issues of identity development, children tend to ‘try on’ new personas and identification with different peer groups. This long journey is normal. Adolescence is a gift; it is a time when we become who we are and when where our brains are most active, and our contribution to the world tends to be most significant [4]. Allow the process to be long and arduous; your child has a right to go at his or her own pace. A recognized expert in the neurological development of adolescence development says it best,

The remodeling that goes on in the teenage brain has the potential to inspire so much more than just “immature” or rash behavior. This time of transition in the brain also inspires emotional spark, social engagement, novelty seeking, and creative exploration that can be optimized to empower adolescents to live their lives to the fullest.” Dr. Dan Siegel (2013)

Be on the lookout for bullying and victimization: The resilience factors mentioned above are contrasted to the risk factors of bullying and victimization in this population. Unfortunately, 94% of GLTBQ youth report incidents of cruelty, assault, or harassment for being gay. This victimization increases suicidal thoughts, which in turn increases the likelihood of suicide attempts. [1]

Consider therapy: Many children with gender identity or sexual orientation issues will become depressed or highly anxious at some time. If your child has a sudden loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, disturbed patterns of sleep or eating, and a sad mood more often than not, depression may be the culprit. Your child may not be able to navigate these challenges on his or her own. Therapy from a licensed psychologist or licensed professional counselor may be an asset to your child at this time and may provide a protective factor against suicidality and self-harm behaviors.

Locate communities: Most major middle schools and high schools have a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Network which provides support for students who identify as GLBTQ. ‘Safe Space Networks,’ often identified with a sticker, indicate places where children with gender and sexual orientation diversity will be able to share openly in a space of acceptance, honesty, and openness. See a list of sites in the ‘Learn More’ section that may provide resources in your community.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

We Help You, Immediately

Our Free Discovery Session is a 20-minute consultation where we can talk one-on-one about the concerns and questions you have about your child.

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We Help Determine Next Steps

Our Initial Consultation allows us to get a deeper understanding of your child’s needs and determine if an assessment is appropriate.

We Build a Customized Plan

Our Assessments allow us to determine your child’s specific strengths and challenges. We can use this information to develop a customized support plan which includes: referrals

We Connect you with the Right Professionals

Once we understand your child’s needs, we will help families get connected to the right specialists. No more guesswork, no more wasted time and resources.

We Provide Ongoing Coaching and Support

Our Coaching Packages allow us to continually support families as they continue their journeys. Parental coaching, life-skills practice, and school advocacy are just a few examples of ways we help.

Clear Child Psychology is here to help

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