New study shows that supporting young transgender children has a beneficial effect on their mental health. When young transgender children are allowed to live openly as the gender they identify with and they get heaps of parental support, they fare much better psychologically.
We know that some children have a gender identity that is different from their sex assigned at birth, and many have interests and hobbies that may align with the other gender. Some children, however, do not identify with either gender. They may feel like they are somewhere in between or have no gender.
For some young children, expressing a wish to be or identifying as another gender may be temporary; for others, it is not. Only time can tell. Some children who are gender non-conforming in early childhood grow up to become transgender adults (persistently identifying with a gender that is different from their birth sex), and others do not.
Researchers suggest that gender is something we are born with; it can’t be changed by any interventions. It is critically important that children feel loved and accepted for who they are. On that note, a small study published in the journal Pediatrics has shown that young transgender children allowed to live openly as the gender they identify with seem no more anxious or depressed than other children.
The secret seems to be support and acceptance, the researchers report. The findings are reassuring after a series of reports that indicated transgender individuals in the United States often had high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.
The thinking has always been that kids who are not acting gender-stereotypically are basically destined to have mental health problems.
stated Kristina Olson of the University of Washington, who led the study.
Olson’s team studied 73 kids aged 3 to 12. Their parents were asked whether their children had experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety during the past week. They found the transgender kids averaged an anxiety score of 50.1 on a National Institutes of Health scale – almost the same as the national norm of 50.
Also, research has shown that transgender children whose parents pressure them to conform, when compared with accepting, supportive parents, have a four times higher suicide and drug abuse rate, twice the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and a five times greater chance of suffering depression.
Rates of anxiety among trans kids were ‘a smidge higher’ than national averages for children of the same age, but otherwise they matched national norms, declared Kristina Olson. She added that it’s the largest study to examine the psychological health of transgender youth who have socially transitioned.
However, the study certainly suggests that family support is linked to better mental health, although that idea wasn’t tested directly and Olson affirmed that the results don’t prove that is the explanation for the children’s well-being.
The findings are ‘truly stunning’, given previous studies showing high rates of mental health problems including suicidal behaviour in transgender children, as Dr. Ilana Sherer, a Dublin, California, pediatrician, wrote in a Pediatrics editorial.
Micah Heumann, an academic adviser at the University of Illinois’s Champaign campus, was among study participants. His 10-year-old child, Daniel, was born a girl and named Naima, but has identified as a boy ever since he knew about gender, Heumann declared.
In second grade, the family agreed to let Daniel legally change his name and at the boy’s request, his school agreed to go along with the change, even letting Daniel use the boy’s bathroom. Daniel was very well-adjusted, but still felt stress because he knew that not everyone was so accepting, Heumann added.
Heumann also declared that the family reacted to Daniel’s choice with mixed feelings, mourning the loss of a daughter but never wavering in love and support for Daniel.
Olson, the study author, said the results don’t apply to all transgender kids, especially those whose parents oppose their change in identity. Opponents of allowing these youngsters to adopt names, hairstyles, clothes and pronouns opposite their birth gender have argued that kids so young cannot possibly know their gender at such an early age.
All in all, the findings of this study sustain that letting these kids live openly as the gender they identify with can be an incredibly affirming process, showing the child that their identity is truly supported.
Image Source: guim.co.uk.