In the last two years, the ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program has seen an increase in participants who identify as transgender. Someone who is transgender has a sense of personal identity and gender that does not correspond with their birth sex.
Nationwide, about 0.7% of American teens identify as transgender, but nearly 2% of the participants in the ReadyKids Teen Counseling program have identified as transgender or gender variant. That’s an almost 200% increase than what you’d expect to see.
“There are a lot of variables that lead into it,” said Jordan Leahy, Teen Counselor. “People who are transgender are more visible than ever in our society, but there is also a political climate that is trying to deny they exist. This is increasing mental health needs.”
Coming out as transgender in your teen years comes with a variety of struggles, particularly with parents. For instance, studies show that familial rejection can lead transgender youth to engage in behaviors that put their health at risk, trigger depression and other mental health problems, and in the worst of cases – result in suicide. Furthermore, lack of family acceptance after coming out as transgender is one of the top reasons teens runaway or are kicked out of their homes by their parents. Among homeless youth, 20-40% are transgender, and most face discrimination when seeking even temporary shelter.
However, familial support does the opposite. Parents who accept their child’s gender identity can act as a buffer against bullying and bias outside of the home. In other words, for some transgender youth, family support can be the difference between life and death. The ReadyKids Teen Counseling Program wants to help families and teens in this journey toward acceptance and support.
Here are 4 tips our counselors offer on how to be an ally to a transgender teenager.
1. Use their preferred name and pronouns
“A name is significant, and we don’t always have an understanding of that in our culture,” said Leahy. “If a person has chosen a new name for themselves, it’s usually because their given name is in some way hurtful. If you live in a home with someone who doesn’t acknowledge who you are and can be cruel to you for who you are, that has a huge effect.”
If you’re unsure which pronouns a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. If you’re still unsure, you can default to “they/their.” If you must ask which pronouns a person uses, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Alex, and I use the pronouns he and him. What about you?”
Most importantly, if you mess up (as everyone who has known someone as a different gender for a long time is likely to do), quietly correct yourself.
“Many people are well intentioned and want to be supportive, but if you miss a beat and say something wrong and everyone can get hurt,” said Dee Keller, Senior Teen Counselor. “Mistakes do happen. It’s okay to go back. It’s okay to learn. It’s okay to do things differently.”
2. Break the connection in your mind between gender identity and sexuality
“When teens come out as transgender, this can be confusing, especially for parents,” said Leahy. “But gender identity is not the same as sexual identity.” Transgender does not mean gay or lesbian. Gender is about who you are, not who you are attracted to.
Trans Student Educational Resources has a helpful diagram called the “Gender Unicorn” which explains how gender identity, gender expression, what gender someone is physically attracted to, and what gender someone is emotionally attracted to all exist on a spectrum. For example, it’s possible to be born female, transition to male and still be attracted to men. It’s also possible to be born male, and later identify as genderless (part male, part female), but that doesn’t mean you’re A-sexual and not interested in a relationship. A wide variety of possible combinations exist, over 7 billion!
3. Be patient
A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to figure out what’s true for them. They might, for example, use a name or pronoun, and then decide at a later time to change the name or pronoun again. Do you best to be respectful and use the name and pronoun requested.
4. Become educated
Being transgender is no longer taboo. With people like Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black and Caitlyn Jenner from the Kardashians being open about their identities, trans people are more visible than ever. GLAAD has a number of resources to expand awareness of trans issues. Locally, the Cville Pride Community Network has a compiled list of resources as well.
Check out art, literature and films about trans people. Barnes and Noble has a helpful list of Young Adult novels about transgender characters, IMBD has a list of movies featuring trans main characters, and an online comic called “Assigned Male” has great cartoon strips about the daily challenges trans people face.
As a parent, if you come to a point where you don’t know what else to do, the ReadyKids Teen Counselors are available to talk any time, 24/7 to any teen or parent of a teen in the Charlottesville area. Call (434) 972-7233.
“Trans kids are more vulnerable. We want to have the space to welcome these kids,” said Keller. “The runaway risk and family conflict is high for LGBT kids, having a supportive family is a huge resilience factor. We hope to equip families and teens.”
The ReadyKids Teen Crisis Hotline is a free service that can be reached at any time by calling (434) 972-7233.
The events of August 2017 in Charlottesville were deeply upsetting within our community. While we do not know what the anniversary of these events will hold, we can expect that August 11-12, 2018, and the days afterwards may bring up difficult thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in both adults and children.
Children look to the adults in their lives to understand their world and how to respond, especially during upsetting and traumatic community events. Even children as young as 2 and 3 pick up on family, social, and community stress. Kids are very good at noticing emotional changes in their caregivers, but do not know how to make sense of what is happening on their own. Talking with and supporting your child can help them cope better during this time.
Possible Ways Youth May be Impacted:
- Media exposure to the violent events of last year. Children are impacted by what they see, particularly when seeing familiar places as the setting for violence and offensive symbols.
- Anniversary Reactions are common after traumatic experiences.
- Possible Community Violence. The community is preparing for potential violence during anniversary events.
- Reawakened community division, including hateful actions and words toward minority groups, can impact children of all ages.
Signs of Stress and Anxiety:
- Fearfulness: Increased fear, clinginess, and difficulty separating from caregivers.
- Somatic complaints: headaches, stomachaches, tiredness.
- Sleep Difficulties: nightmares, trouble falling asleep, or not wanting to sleep in own bed
- Regression: Acting younger than their age.
- Changes in Play and Activities: Young children may act out their fears or what they have seen in their play. In older youth, changes in interest in activities or social connections.
- Trauma History: Youth with a past trauma or exposure to violence, mental health concerns, or special needs may be more vulnerable to the impact of these events.
- If your child’s behavioral and emotional changes do not begin to improve after a few weeks, you may want to talk with a professional such as a Pediatrician, School Counselor, Spiritual Leader, or Counselor.
Tips for Supporting Kids
- Set aside time to talk: Find a time when you are calm and not distracted to talk with your child about what is going on. Tell the truth, avoid graphic details, use age-appropriate language, and speak in simple, clear ways.
- Focus on Listening: Children need to be heard, even when you do not have all of the answers. Ask about their thoughts and feelings, and focus on responding to their questions or concerns.
- Model positive coping: Monitor your own stress level so that you can be calm and in control around your child. Find healthy ways to cope and express your own emotions when your child is not nearby. If your child wants to talk when you are upset, schedule a later time to follow up when you are ready.
- Limit Media Exposure: Minimize or restrict TV and social media exposure of graphic and violent content. Talk with your child about what they see, including how older youth engage in social media.
- Plan positive activities: In difficult times, kids especially need to feel connected and to engage in comforting activities.
- Reassure Safety: Emphasize ways that adults are keeping them safe, including Helpers in the community, without making unrealistic promises.
- Maintain normal routines and rules: Consistency and structure provides stability and comfort for kids. Talk with your child ahead of time about schedule changes.
- Positive Expression of Values and Emotions: Difficult times can provide rich opportunities for sharing your values with your kids. Older youth may benefit from helping activities that allow them to express their values. See back for healthy ways to express emotions.
NBC News ranked the Aug. 11 and 12 rallies in Charlottesville as one of the top 10 news stories of 2017. The Atlantic rated the photo of protesters being hit by a car on 4th street the top news photo of the year. For those of us living in Charlottesville, 2017 was a tense and stressful year, particularly for our children.
Athena Gould, Executive Director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Blue Ridge was moved to find ways to speak words of hope to Charlottesville’s children. From this was born that #DearYoungPerson campaign. Recently, ReadyKids was a recipient of dozens of #DearYoungPerson postcards. They came from Louisiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Florida and even as far away as Norway. Each one had touching words of inspiration and light. These postcards now hang in the ReadyKids waiting room where children in the Inside Out program, who have experienced trauma, can read them.
If you also need a pick-me-up, take some time to read what beautiful people all around the country took the time to say to hurting kids. It’ll make you believe the world is a good place again.
We’re smiling bashfully from ear to ear. We’ve gotten a lot of positive attention lately! Everyone at ReadyKids is passionate about the work they do, and we’re so glad our work contributes positively to our community.
Last week, our Executive Director, Jacki Bryant, was interviewed for the CBS19 Community Counts Segment. This week, ReadyKids’ hard working teams of InsideOut, ReadySteps, and Child Care Quality were featured on the local Charlottesville news last night in two separate stories.
InsideOut Receives Heal Charlottesville and Concert for Charlottesville Funds
We are proud to announce publicly that we are one of the proud recipients of donations from the Concert for Charlottesville and the Heal Charlottesville Fund of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. This summer, partly due to the trauma of the Aug. 12 rally, our wait list for trauma counseling climbed to over 54 kids. These funds from CACF will go towards hiring an additional trauma counselor to meet the needs of our city’s youth.
Click on the photos to be led to the CBS19 video with Shannon Noe, the program manager for our counseling programs.
ReadySteps and Child Care Quality Featured in Reporting on Affordable Childcare
Do you know the ReadyKids staff traveled 36,091 miles to reach program participants in their home communities this year?
Or that 37% of our funding comes from generous donations from people like you?
Click on the image above to read more interesting facts about ReadyKids in our Fiscal Year 2017 annual report!Read More
It’s 8 p.m. on a dark, rainy Thursday night in October. Eighteen men and women of all ages and races gather in the Education Center of ReadyKids in Charlottesville. They all have one thing in common – they watch other people’s children for a living. They are tired from working a full day. One drinks a large soda to stay awake. Another loudly clicks a pen while blinking her eyes and yawning. Despite their exhaustion they’ve come to this Child Development Associate (CDA) class to improve their skills.
“I was thinking it was going to be common sense material, but actually coming and doing the modules I’ve learned to professionally grow as a better teacher,” said Cheri Paschall, a 3-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center. “I’ve learned that free play is a better way of learning, and by doing this I’ve found more confidence in myself.”
The ReadyKids Child Care Quality program provides a free CDA class to child care providers in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area or for those whose employers enrolled in Virginia Quality. It’s a rigorous 13 module program that is self-paced and teaches about everything from effective behavior management to how to plan a healthy meal a child will eat.
“This is a very good resource for people who want to do better, want to be better,” said Ayana Alexander, a 2-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center.
Though the average salary for an early childhood educator in Virginia is around $20,000 – about the same amount as the Federal Poverty Level for a family of 3 – for these men and women their jobs are more than just a paycheck. They are building Charlottesville’s future.
When asked, “how does your work contribute to the future of Charlottesville?” their passion and professionalism come through.
“With everything that’s going on lately, it’s had people on edge … There are a lot of kids who sadly don’t have the same opportunity to love and grow and feel like they’re in a nurtured environment where they know they are safe, they’re loved and they can be themselves. Even though they’re two-years-old right now, they will carry with them the thought that, ‘I’m somebody, I’m important, I can be cared for, I can be what I want to be when I grow up.’ I feel it when I walk in the door.”
– Ayana Alexander, 2-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center
“We give them the tools to learn. We give them the hunger to learn. We give them the permission to learn. Yes, it’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to make messes. It’s okay to tear things apart and put them back together … if we don’t stretch their brains now there is not going to be very much to stretch later.”
– Katherine Cashatt, Toddler teacher at Covesville Child Development Center
“We provide them with the information, the care, the love, the support that they need to become the little people they are growing up to be. Without that love, care and support then they might not see that if they weren’t learning it at day care.”
– Brittani Collier, Preschool teacher at UVA Child Development Center
“I am partnering with my parents and we are trying to provide an environment for these precious little beings to become healthy, independent, contributing individuals to their families, communities and society at large through our loving, nurturing and stimulating environment for them to grow up and build their self esteem, so they can provide that for others.”
– Vanessa Coles, Infant & Toddler In-Home Child Care Provider
“I feel like I have a good impact on the children that I teach. When they get older what I’ve taught them can help them have a bright future. I give them the opportunity to explore more, let them have a say in lesson planning to drive what their interests are. They can feel that they are important in the classroom.”
– Cheri Paschall, 3-year-old teacher at Barrett Early Learning Center
Help ReadyKids continue to improve the quality of Early Childhood Education in the Charlottesville community. Though the CDA class is paid for with grant money, many students can’t afford the books required. $95 pays for a full set of books for an adult CDA student.Read More
We are touched by the generosity of W.E. Brown Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning and Electrical who chose ReadyKids as a recipient of their Giving Back program. Their thoughtfulness and financial support allowed us to make a 30-second ad informing the community about our work. The ad will air on CBS19 in Charlottesville through out the fall.
Don’t you agree that every child deserves the brightest future possible? Unfortunately, not all kids get that chance. ReadyKids makes sure every child, regardless of their circumstances, is ready to learn, ready for relationships and ultimately ready for life.
Won’t you do your part, too? Join us by participating, volunteering or donating.Read More
We were a lucky recipient of the United Way’s Day of Caring yesterday. Thank you so much to all of the volunteers who donated their time to make our building look beautiful, and help our programs run smoother! Take a look at all we accomplished!