Parental support is key for emotional health of transgender youth

A new study refutes the perception that transgender children who change their appearance are bound to suffer from mental illness.

Susan Osborne/AP/File
Daniel Heumann, 10, poses with his parents Micah and Sara Heumann and brother Asher, 7, Nov. 2015. Daniel, was born a girl and named Naima, but has identified as a boy ever since he knew about gender, Mr. Heumann said. Young transgender children allowed to live openly as the gender they identify with fared as well psychologically as other kids in a small study that suggests parental support may be the key.

A study conducted in the United States finds that a small sample of transgender children who change their appearance to match their gender identity are not necessarily more likely to suffer mental health issues than gender conforming children.

The research contradicts previous studies that have found that transgender children who dress according to their chosen gender are far more likely to suffer from mental health issues. It seems that supportive parents who are willing to help children navigate a social transition may be key to ensuring that they grow up with the self-confidence to succeed, these findings suggests.

"This finding is quite surprising given that, to date, nearly all studies of young gender diverse kids show that they have much higher rates of depression and anxiety than other children," the study’s lead author, Kristina Olson, told Reuters. “In contrast, these children are looking remarkably typical.”

While the transgender children who took part in the study did exhibit slightly higher levels of anxiety, they did not approach the threshold for mental health intervention and were no more likely to experience depression, Dr. Olson and her colleagues report.

The study, which was published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics, followed 73 transgender children between the ages of 3 and 12, as well as over four dozen siblings and 73 other non-transgender children. The transgender children who took part in the study were all pre-pubescent.

While the sample size is small and the study will need to be replicated with more participants for firm conclusions to be drawn, the findings mesh with what some pediatricians have found in their practice.

"I have been seeing more and more kids who are absolutely thriving and happy, especially as communities and families become more aware of the importance of accepting and supporting these kids as they are," Illiana Sherer, one of the founders of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at the University of California, San Francisco, told Reuters.

A 2015 Monitor article, cited another study that found that although 75 percent of transgender children without parental support experienced depression, only 15 percent of transgender children with parents who supported their transition did.

This report contains material from Reuters.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.