Many social workers work with families whose children have just informed them that they are transgendered. A social worker can be crucial to an otherwise loaded situation. The teens will be ready to authenticate their feelings and parents are often defensive and reluctant to support their teens in what they see as “just a phase.” Social workers need to facilitate conversation and mediate cooperation between parent and children. In order to help the family stay together and support each other in a difficult time, social workers need to step in.
How to Help the Parents
Teens need help processing their opening up, but many social workers find that the parents face a harder hill when it comes to their kids telling them they are transgendered. The teens have been processing their transition for a while. They’ve probably told friends and researched it online. The confused parents are, however, completely caught off guard.
Social workers should encourage parents to get on the same page as their teen. Encourage them to read blogs, check out books on transgender and keep an open mind as they get educated. Encourage the parents to avoid jumping to conclusions and thinking that they know better than their teen. Nothing could be less effective in dealing with the situation. Instead, encourage parents to not only get educated, but to respect their child’s perspective, ask questions without getting upset, and make the child feel that they have an ally rather than a foe in their parent.
How to Help the Teen
Teens that are coming out about transgender can often move away from their parents toward their friends. Especially if the parents are being unsupportive, a wedge can be driven into the family dynamic. Teens will feel more isolated than they do already, and a sense of trauma can be impacted. Even if teens feel they need to take consolation in their peers who are like them, make sure that they keep the line of communication open between their parents. They will need their parents support when it comes to transitioning. Without that support, it could be a very painful process.
Once you’ve helped the family and the transgendered teen come together on their understanding of the situation, families need to consider how they will implement social transition. If the son or daughter wants to change his or her name, parents may need to go through the appropriate channels at school to make that happen. Family members need to get used to changing a familiar pronoun. The school will need to be required to accommodate the student with a unisex bathroom and a private changing area. All of these changes will be stressful on the teen and the parents. A social worker can help to mediate ongoing therapy, discussion and the processing of a very intense transition.
When transgendered teens come out to their families, it can be a volatile time for everyone involved. If you’re a social worker, you could help these families hold it together and move through a very difficult transition.
Author Robert Neff has a degree in social services and recommends considering CWRU when checking out schools offering these degrees.