Gender identity: How can I #help my #struggling #teen?

As an agency working with families in our community, we have noted a marked increase over the past few years in youth who are addressing gender and sexual identity. This may be primarily due to an increase in societal acceptance, such as the recent movement toward gender-neutral bathrooms, not necessarily an increase in young people who are contending with identity exploration. We all know that the teenage years can be difficult; hormone fluctuations, social dynamics, and the striving toward independence are familiar to all of us who have gone through it ourselves, or who have teenagers in our lives. These issues can leave parents or caregivers feeling helpless and without sufficient resources to help.

Many of these youth battle emotional and mood issues, and some have been the target of, or witnessed others being bullied. For those exploring sexuality and gender identities, a lack of supportive allies can magnify their struggles and compound the already complex issues they are facing. LGBTQ youth often deal with rejection and the crisis of belonging. The “need to belong” is a fundamental need every human experiences, and when rejected, this need becomes destabilized, and the disconnection we feel adds to emotional pain. Still today, 84% of LGBTQ youth are harassed at school due to sexual orientation, 63% due to gender expression, and 9 out of 10 LGBTQ students repeatedly hear the word “gay” used in a negative way and three fourths of students regularly hear homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” and “dyke” in school. These micro-aggressions instill a message and assume a certain standard, which again, can create rejection. Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create a stressful social environment where overall health and wellbeing is compromised. When it is hard to find a way to belong or adapt to others, it can be typical for many to find unhealthy or dangerous ways to connect. “Minority stress” causes mental health problems that are more prevalent in the LGBTQ community including: substance abuse disorders, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide.

Allied support (the acceptance parents, caregivers, friends, teachers, and others give), establishes a sense of safety and belonging that everyone wants to feel. In supporting the LGBTQ youth of our community, education is key. Opening up and being curious in understanding the rest of the world grants us a preparedness and comfort level to be able to support the youth of our community. For those wanting to help, seeking out knowledge, while not making assumptions, allows for listening, a resource many youth need.

We at Infant/Child Enrichment Services offered two workshops on these topics last year which were powerful and left the attendees asking for more information and resources. In response, we have developed a two part workshop series called “How Can I Help” in the hopes of providing an educational foundation around LGBTQ youth, depression and mood issues, bullying, and the crisis of belonging.

Part 1 on March 27 features the San Joaquin Pride Center coming to our community and presenting their Cultivating Acceptance program, addressing the challenges LGBTQ youth face in the community. This presentation will cover cultural awareness and diversity, reducing disparities, and competency training.

Throughout this training, the concentration will be geared toward youth advocacy and empowerment, along with learning how to help the youth to become motivated within their community.

Part 2 on April 3 features a panel comprised of local community therapists. They will discuss and answer questions around issues all youth face in our community including: bullying, self-harm, depression and other mood issues, as well as how to receive help and next steps in creating a support system for the youth in our community.

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