What's Going On With My Teen?
The teen years can feel overwhelming at times, as young people adjust to changing bodies and new feelings, while coping with social pressures and the demands of school and family. This time can be especially challenging for young people who also find themselves questioning their sexuality, if they feel their sexual orientation or gender identity is not in line with social norms.
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s romantic and sexual attraction to other people – of the same sex (homosexual), opposite sex (heterosexual) or both sexes (bisexual). Sexual orientation develops throughout life and can shift along a continuum between opposite-sex and same-sex over time. This is normal, although it can be confusing. It’s helpful to avoid labels that limit a teen’s ability to fully explore who they are as a person, regardless of sexual orientation.
Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of themselves as male or female. For most people, their sense of gender matches their physical body. Transgender people, however, feel that their sense of gender does not match their body. This can be confusing and distressing for these young people as they struggle to understand themselves and find their place in society.
Love and Acceptance
If someone close to you seems to be questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, make sure they know that you love and accept them and will always be there for them. Many teens are reluctant to tell their parents or peers if they think they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, for fear of rejection and/or ridicule. It’s okay for them to withhold this information until they feel more comfortable with it themselves. Don’t press them to discuss the issue – instead, find ways to let them know that you would always accept anybody for who they are, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
You may also find ways to let them know about supports in their school and community. For example, many schools have a Gay Straight Alliance, which provides a safe place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and straight youth to talk and share their feelings, with support from a teacher who is an ally (safe person). In Nova Scotia there is also the Youth Project, which provides a venue for youth under the age of 25 to connect and socialize with people who help them feel safe and accepted. Young people confused about their gender identity can also call Central Referral at 902.464.4110 or toll free, 1.888.470.5888 and asked to be connected to Central Referral, to ask for a meeting with the Transgender Health Team at the IWK. The professionals here are experienced in helping teens and families talk through the issues and access supports.
There is no right or wrong sexual orientation or gender identity, and there is nothing inherently unsafe or unhealthy about having a sexual orientation or gender identify that is different than that of the majority of people. However, young people in this situation are at higher risk of mental health problems like depression, anxiety and addiction, and are more likely than other teens to commit suicide. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that these young people feel accepted and loved by the people close to them, and to provide them with access to other youth who share similar experiences. This will help ensure that they grow up to be happy, self-accepting adults who are able to fulfill their potential in life.