Supporting Your Teen

As a queer, non-binary therapist who grew up in the Catholic school system, it is wild to hear from my trans teen clients how some things have changed since I was their age. There is wider-spread access to information about gender and sexuality, more depictions of queer and trans people in the media, and I’ve heard both anecdotal and statistical evidence that members of Generation Z are more comfortable identifying within the LGBTQ+ umbrella. With that said, the level of knowledge and acceptance queer and trans teens experience is often highly dependent on their location (rural vs. urban, political leanings), other intersecting aspects of their identity, and the attitudes of their families, teachers, and school system.

In the spirit of Pride Month, I thought I’d answer some of the common questions I’m hearing posed by parents, either directly or through the reports of teens I’ve worked with. This information is also useful for anyone who is trying to understand and support the people in their life who identify as trans or non-binary.


Isn’t the prevalence of non-binary, trans and queer identities a fad? How is it possible that such a large increase in LGBTQ+ identities can happen in the course of a generation?

Studies have indicated that rather than particular identities being a ‘fad’ or a phase, people who begin to question their sexual or gender identity are more likely over time to arrive at a more expansive definition of their gender or who they’re attracted to. So, even if someone uses a particular identity marker and later changes it, this change is often in the direction of a broader description of how they identify or who they are attracted to (this may be one reason that bisexual is the most common sexual identity!). That being said, the increase in numbers of people who identify within the LGBTQ+ umbrella is likely due to decreasing stigma and increased access to words and identity markers that fit people’s broad experiences of gender and sexuality. Heterosexual and cisgender identity is not the default, which means that LGBTQ+ identities are not a passing phase people go through before ‘returning’ to the default. Also, a part of being a teenager is exploring identity! Even if a teen’s understanding of themselves does eventually shift in some way, they will have benefited from knowing that their family tries to always accept them for who they are.


My teen is asking me to use a new name and pronouns, and I feel like I can’t get used to it. I also find that it’s bringing up big feelings for me. What do I do?

Change can be hard for parents. It is normal to experience feelings of surprise, confusion, and even grief or frustration as parents attempt to understand who their child is and shift their assumptions and expectations regarding what that child’s life will look like. However, if your teen has come out to you, this is a vulnerable moment for them (especially if it happened by accident, they were outed, or if it happened during a fight). It’s important for parents to work on balancing the feelings coming up for them while prioritizing continuing to foster openness, compassion, and connection with their teen. Parents may want to seek therapy, keep a journal, or find other parents to talk to online or in person. When parents and family members don’t have a chance to work through their feelings, it can increase defensiveness and disconnection with their child. This can lead to denying their child’s experience, or ignoring a name or pronoun change. This is often deeply hurtful to trans teens. One of the best ways to get used to a new name or pronouns is to simply practice using them in sentences until they start to feel more automatic. Doing this out loud behind closed doors or practicing in conversation with someone who can support you is often helpful. A teen requesting that you support them in this way is a significant show of trust in a parent or family member, and it’s important to try your best, work through your feelings in a separate space, and try to view your child as the expert on themselves.


I keep messing up when I try to use their new pronouns, or I often hear another family member that they are out to referring to my child using their former pronouns/name. What do I do?

Depending on the reaction of your child, the simplest thing to do may be to continue to practice your child’s pronouns and/or name behind closed door until it feels more automatic for you. You may also want to talk to your child and tell them that you recognize that you’ve been misgendering them occasionally, apologize, and promise to continue to work on referring to them correctly. If the slip is in a passing moment, simply correct yourself and move on. Apologizing profusely or making a joke about ‘getting used to’ someone’s name and pronouns re-focuses the conversation on your feelings or discomfort, which can lead to decreased trust and openness with children and teens. With family members that your teen is out to, gently reminding them about your child’s name and pronouns can support the family in moving towards a supportive stance as a whole; modeling correct use of pronouns and your teen’s name is also helpful. If you’re noticing resistance in your family member, asking your child if they’d be okay with you having a talk with that family member gives your child the autonomy to decide how they’d like to handle it, rather than assuming what they need.


I’m worried that if my child embraces an identity within the LGBTQ+ umbrella, they will be at an increased risk of bullying. Is it wrong to discourage them from doing so with the goal of protecting them?

This is an unfortunate and painful statement I’ve heard multiple times from parents. When we discourage teens from exploring or owning their identity because we’re concerned they will be bullied, we are bringing the underlying message of that bullying into the home of our teen. We send the message that in order to be cared for, accepted, and safe, our child must conform to society’s expectations. Often parents who say this are dealing with some of the ways they were forced to conform and the sense of danger they had in terms of appropriate gendered behaviours and presentation over the course of their life. For parents, these are issues that are best dealt with in therapy or through supportive discussion with other adults who are informed about trans issues. Your child may end up experiencing bullying or other forms of discrimination. It’s important that home is as safe a space as possible for them, and doesn’t perpetuate the same harms they may experience out in the world. ‘Discouraging’ behaviour or presentation doesn’t stop someone from being LGBTQ+; but it does increase internalized self-hatred and fear of coming out for teens.


My child says they’re non-binary and/or trans, but they’re still doing activities/presenting in ways that align with how I understand their assigned gender at birth. What does this mean?

While diverse media presentations of what it means to be trans and non-binary are increasing, there are still particular narratives that we see repeated regarding these identities. One is that if someone comes out as trans they will want to present and act in all of the stereotypical ways society often expects of the gender they’ve come out as. Another is that trans people are always uncomfortable in their bodies, and uncomfortable with particular aspects of femininity or masculinity that align with their assigned gender at birth. Another is that there’s a particular way to ‘look’ non-binary or trans. These narratives perpetuate both a binary understanding of trans identities (that all trans people identify as men or women and want to ‘pass’ as cisgender), or alternatively perpetuate a kind of ‘third-gendering’ of non-binary people – that non-binary identity is one identity with a particular look rather than an umbrella term encompassing many different identities and ways of experiencing gender (or its absence). Your teen is the expert on themselves. Gender presentation and gender identity are separate, and may not align in the ways society may expect them to. If you’d like to open up a conversation with your teen, try to do so from a respectful space of curiosity and desire to learn.


You may have many more questions regarding your child’s identity. If you’d like to find more resources on how to support your child or other family member, consider exploring the following:


KW Counselling’s OK2BMe program and resources:

The Gender Variant Working Group:

And when you can’t find the answers you’re looking for, try to always defer to your teen’s knowledge and personal experience and ask questions from a place of positive intention and the desire to better understand them.