Parenting the Non-Binary Teenager
Young people today are growing up in a society where traditional ideas about lifestyle and identity are being challenged. Many young people view concepts like gender and sexuality as fluid, instead of sorting them into strict labels or categories. They are becoming more and more comfortable with adopting progressive identities and expressing them to the outside world.
As a parent, you may have grown up in a time where things were not quite like this. Therefore, when your child comes at as gay or transgender, it can lead to a lot of questions. Should I change the way I treat them? Are there new rules? Is this something that should be avoided? If your teen comes out as non-binary, you may be especially blindsided, as the term might be unfamiliar or difficult to understand. You may be confused or worried about what this means.
Don’t worry! There’s nothing “wrong” with being non-binary and you shouldn’t panic or be stressed. Your child is still the same person they were before they came out to you and will remain the same person inside. They have simply experienced a change in their identity and wanted to share this with you. In order to make sure you establish trust in your relationship with your teen, it might help to educate yourself on the meaning of the term “non-binary”. This will allow you to better understand how to communicate with your teenager and make them feel accepted. This article aims to illuminate the meaning of the term, as well as strategies to handle any obstacles that may arise from the situation.
The phrase non-binary refers to an individual’s gender, which is distinct from the concepts of biologicalsex or sexuality.Gender refers to one’s place within social categories of “man” and “woman,” encompassing factors such as dress, mannerisms, behaviors, and expected social roles.
On its own, the term binary means there are only two choices in a givensituation. In society’s binary view of gender, the two choices are “man” and “woman.” A non-binary individual does not identify as a man ora woman. They may stop dressing in ways which conform to either gender and may want to start being referred to by gender neutral pronouns like “they”, “them”, and “theirs” instead of “he” or “she”.
This does not mean they’ve experienced or necessarily wish to experience any change in their sex. Sex is defined by their physical, biological state. Coming out as nonbinary also does not quite mean that their sexuality has changed. Sexuality refers to what kind of person they are attracted to.
But what about the term transgender? Your nonbinary teenager may or may not feel that the term transgender applies to them. A transgender person is simply someone who’s gender does not match their sex.
Though it may seem like your teen is trying to be cool or follow a trend, this change in gender identity is likely occurring because of an inner feeling, not an external push. Though it may seem like a passing fad, research has shown that ideas about gender identity formulate in peoples’ minds by the age of three. There is also evidence that suggests that non-binary people have existed throughout history in nearly every culture.
Talking to your Teen About Their Gender
It is important that you recognize your teen’s gender identity as real so that they can feel accepted. Ignoring their shift in gender identity can lead them to suppress their feelings and thoughts and to experience increased anxiety and depression. By expressing their non-binary identity outside of the home, they may now also be at higher risk for bullying and discrimination by their peers. This could lead to low self-esteem and insecurity. If these experiences and feelings are not recognized and dealt with, your teen has a higher chance of engaging in risky behaviors. By accepting and listening to your teenager’s feelings about their gender, you can prevent worsening mental health issues and help them feel safe.
The best way to help your teen navigate this time is to listen to their needs and allow them to go through changes at their own pace. Communication is key, so consider speaking up and letting your child know that you’re there for them. Not sure where to start? A good way to begin is by asking them to define their gender for you on their own terms. Here is an example:
“I accept you no matter what and want to help you through anything you might be feeling. For me to better understand, would you mind explaining what you mean by non-binary and how you define your own gender? I believe you and I’m not upset. I would just like to talk about everything so that I can make sure I don’t offend or mistreat you in any way.”
By engaging your teenager in conversations like this, you are reassuring them that they can come to you if they feel stressed or depressed. You are making sure they know that you will not be judgmental or offended when it comes to talking about their gender.
You may find that this change in your teenager’s gender identity may cause both of you to face new obstacles. As mentioned before, your child might face increased bullying or discrimination. You may also find it challenging to explain the situation to friends, family members, and other parents.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers or administrators to talk to them about how to best ensure your child’s wellbeing at school. There may be organizations in your area that are TGNC (transgender and nonconforming) friendly, and will provide services for your teen. You may also be able to seek out LGBT support groups or a gender counselor who can give your teenager further mental health support. By educating yourself as much as possible, you may find it easier to explain and unpack the situation to people who might not know how to process it.
While you can’t protect your child from everything, it’s important as a parent to offer unconditional love. The best way to help is by listening to and accepting your child. By doing this, you can help them navigate whatever challenges come their way.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.