Blog: Supporting Trans Children and Young People
More transgender children and young people are feeling empowered to come out at an earlier age. For frontline professionals, community leaders, family and friends it can be difficult to know how best to offer support in an effective way. Through my work with trans young people engaging with Think2Speak services I've recognised that there is a pressing need for access to advice and guidance in this area. Everyone has a responsibility to review their language use and behaviours to ensure that they have the awareness and the confidence to provide truly trans-inclusive support to trans youth.
Despite recent advances in LGBT+ equality, trans children and young people remain at risk of experiencing discrimination, bullying and harassment at school, online and/or in their local community. Last year's National LGBT Survey, the largest ever conducted in the UK found that the majority of respondents who defined themselves as trans, non-binary, genderqueer or agender reported that staff in the schools they attended had been not been understanding about issues faced by trans youth.
Exposure to bullying and discrimination on a daily basis can increase a trans young person’s likelihood of experiencing mental ill health. Low levels of self-esteem caused by such exposure can be associated with increased levels of shame-proneness which is seen as a significant predictor of self-harm and suicide attempts. The 2017 Stonewall School Report found that 84% of trans respondents had self-harmed at some point in their lives, with non-binary young people more likely to report that they had self-harmed.
So what can professionals, community leaders, friends and family do to be more supportive of trans children and young people?
Firstly, remember that correct pronoun use does matter: if someone confides in you that their preferred pronouns are different from the ones that have been used in the past, use that preferred pronoun in all conversations you have with them. Failure to do so constitutes misgendering, which leads to the young person feeling more alienated and anxious about themselves. If you're unsure about what pronouns a person uses, just ask them! And if they don’t want to tell you yet, use gender neutral language (i.e. they/them) until they feel ready to tell you.
Providing safe spaces where trans youth can be authentically themselves helps to address low self-esteem issues that they may be facing at school or at home and allows them opportunities to raise questions about sexual health or relationships. It should be a place where trans youth can talk openly about their thoughts and feelings free from judgement. A safe space can be a classroom, a welcoming community space or even space in a relative’s living room for a few hours a week. Attending a specialist peer support group can also help to build levels of self-esteem. We run an ever-growing network of peer support groups for trans children, young people and their families in the East Midlands - www.think2speak.com/hodgepodge
Finally, don’t be afraid of becoming a visible, proud trans ally! Allyship ranges from wearing pronoun badges and displaying trans-supportive posters and the trans flag in the office or in the school common room or corridors, to being willing to spend time listening to what trans young people have to say and making an effort to help them where you can, rather than trying to act on their behalf and tell them what you think is best for them. You can help to empower people to be allies by sharing links to informative articles and guides (freely available on the internet) or arranging gender identity awareness training - click here to read about the training and workshops we can provide.
Nobody should be afraid of offering support to trans children and their families and by thinking about some of the tips above, you will help to empower them to have the confidence to lead happy and healthy lives.