Last week CNN published an article entitled “Kids Who Veer from Gender Norms at Higher Risk for Abuse.” The article highlights a study that was recently published by Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The study shows that children who do not conform to gender roles are more likely to be abused. This abuse increases the probability that these children will experience post-traumatic stress disorder by the time they reach their 20s. Surprisingly, the abuse that children who are gender nonconforming endure is more likely to come from parents and other older adults as opposed to bullying at school.
“Children and Adolescents With Gender Identity Disorder Referred to a Pediatric Medical Center” reports that gender nonconforming behavior occurs in one out of ten children. Some children later self-identify as LGBTQ, and the majority of the kids’ nonconforming behavior lessens as they age.
It is important to recognize that if a child is gender nonconforming that does not mean that he or she is transgender. In fact, Dr. Walter Meyer III, University of Texas Medical Branch, states that “a lot of children seem to be experimenting with cross-gender behavior, but very few are following through to request gender change as they mature.” The study printed in Pediatrics also notes that in rare cases, children whose behavior does not conform to gender norms may experience gender dysphoria, which is a gender identity disorder experienced during adolescence. The disorder involves a divide between a patient’s anatomical sex and their gender identity or gender performance. A study on psychiatric treatment notes that psychiatric symptoms, including depression, self-mulilation, and suicide attempts, are found in approximately 44% of teens who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Cory, who identifies as gender fluid, meaning not completely female or male, comments on the hardships that he experienced due to his gender expression: “I went through various stages of depression. The only reason why I’m here right now is because of all the support my family gave me.” Life as an individual who does not conform to gender norms can be hard. Society and the media can often impose strict gender norms onto children and teens by attempting to determine what clothes, toys, games, and lifestyles are appropriate for their biological sex.
The research surrounding children and teenagers who do not conform to gender norms shows that these individuals are teased, scorned, and misunderstood by both adults and peers. As we tell our students during Start Strong programs, it is important to reach out and become an ally to a friend or classmate who may be bullied or experiencing a tough time. This caring behavior should hopefully continue throughout our lives and be applied to all of our relationships. The most important thing to do is simply to listen and be there for a person who may be in need of support. Believe the person, do not minimize what he or she is experiencing, and offer your help in any way that you can. Even just one ally can help alleviate some of the pain or isolation that gender nonconforming kids and teens may be facing. Reach out and be that one!