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.
By the time Kayla came to ReadyKids, shortly after her fourth birthday, she had lived in three different foster homes, experienced chronic homelessness, substance abuse exposure, neglect and suspected sexual abuse.
At ReadyKids, Kayla met weekly with a trained trauma to heal from her past.
For Kayla, and the 1,273 kids in the ReadyKids service area like her who experienced abuse or neglect last year, the effects of trauma on their developing brains can have lifelong consequences.
The ReadyKids InsideOut program is the only program providing counseling for children who have experienced physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and neglect in the Charlottesville area at no charge to the victims’ families.
“We are fortunate to provide free long term counseling,” said Ashley Wood, Senior Trauma Counselor for InsideOut. “We aren’t limited by Medicaid.”
There is no “magic wand” to heal children from trauma. Likewise, recovering from trauma isn’t a “one size fits all” treatment.
Much like a doctor studies a patient’s symptoms to narrow down a specific diagnosis and treatment, the InsideOut counselors hone their assessment skills to know what interventions will work for each child on their caseload. But they don’t do it through asking questions or waiting for the child to tell them what happened, they use play.
“Play is a child’s primary way of communicating,” said Shannon Noe, Program Manager for Youth Counseling. “By utilizing play therapy techniques, children are able to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a way that is natural and more comfortable … play allows them to have a tool to communicate without having to talk about it verbally. Healing happens in these moments!”
Here are a few activities our counselors use to get a glimpse into a traumatized child’s inner life and begin healing.
Reading “A Terrible Thing Happened”
This story tells about Sherman, a raccoon who saw something awful happen and he can’t forget it, no matter how hard he tries. The book describes many of the behaviors and feelings children experience after traumatic events, like stomachaches or sleeplessness. But also, “problem” behaviors like, “Sherman had to play more, run faster, and sing louder in order to forget the terrible thing he saw.” Sherman goes to see Ms. Maple at school. Ms. Maple listens. She helps Sherman understand what happened was not his fault.
After reading the book, InsideOut counselors will use a raccoon puppet who looks like Sherman to talk to a child.
“Sometimes I have kids who will only talk to Sherman, not to me,” said Wood.
The book ends by showing Sherman’s progress and reassuring children. “Nothing can change the terrible thing that Sherman saw, but now he does not feel so mean. He is not so scared or worried. His stomach does not hurt as much. And the bad dreams hardly ever happen … I think you should know that.”
Putting feelings onto paper
You may have heard that right-brained people are creative, while left brained-people are logical. These insights come from brain science, a burgeoning field offering us more insight on how traumatic events damage a child’s brain development. Thanks to brain scientists, counselors now know that a child who has experienced trauma responds better to right brain therapies, therapies that use creativity and imagination – like art therapy or play therapy.
One form of art therapy many ReadyKids InsideOut counselors use to begin a session is a “Color Your Feelings” activity such as this one. The child’s coloring is an assessment tool, and as a way to track progress through therapy.
“The color your feelings activity is a great way to track progress over time,” said Noe. “It also provides us with a way to normalize having multiple feelings at any given time and to affirm a child who is willing to express emotions that are harder to contain.”
Imagining the future
Trauma and abuse can create a sense of hopelessness and unworthiness in children. Another activity ReadyKids InsideOut counselors do is give kids art materials and ask them to draw “A Bridge to the Future.” In the drawing they must include what they hope for, what might be in their way, and what tools they will need to get there.
“In this picture, the shark is the girl’s trauma, threatening to keep her from the island of her hopes and dreams,” said Niti Patel, InsideOut Trauma Counselor. “Her tools were her paddle, and if you look closely you’ll see that she put a number one on the boat, indicating that she will always put herself first. She said the big sun showed that she had a lot of hope.”
When a child imagines itself as a force of hope, capable of changing his or her future, this increases resilience. Building up resilience to help children overcome difficulties is the main goal of InsideOut.
Through grants and donations from generous donors like you, the ReadyKids InsideOut program has been able to reach more kids each year by adding more counselors to our staff. But the work of healing trauma is deliberate and slow, and requires a genuine relationship. Because of this, our waitlist is growing.
Help us to reach each child who needs us. Please consider a donation to ReadyKids to keep the work going. We can’t do it without you!
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
ReadyKids Teen Counselors, Jordan Leahy and Dee Keller.
They ran away from home. The Virginia State Police reports that 74 juveniles were arrested within the city of Charlottesville during 2015 for running away from home.
The word “home” connotes feelings of nurturance and safety, but that’s not true for everyone. Can you imagine feeling like there was no other way to solve your problems than to leave home?
The teen years are difficult. This is even truer if there are disruptions in the family such as divorce or remarriage, substance use or abuse. Every day, ReadyKids’ two teen counselors – Dee Keller and Jordan Leahy – are in the community meeting with teens and families to help keep teens safe and off the streets.
A Q & A with Ready Kids Teen Counselors
Q: What does the Teen Counseling Program at ReadyKids do?
Dee: The Teen Counseling Program helps local teens and their families find stability. We are a short-term counseling program – on average about 3 months – that support teens who are facing a wide range of challenges and are vulnerable to running away or being kicked out of their homes.
Q: What does a crisis situation look like for a teen?
Dee: This could look like teens or families experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed and at a loss of what to do next; there may be high tension or conflict at home or even teens that are looking for a space to process all the stressors of their lives.
Jordan: For teens, a crisis is a pretty inclusive term. It could mean everything from feeling overwhelmed by a disagreement with a friend, to witnessing or experiencing domestic violence or abuse in the home.
Q: What does the Teen Counseling Program provide for teens and their families?
Dee: We provide access to counseling by being flexible in meeting teens at school, in-home, our office or the community. We not only provide individual or family counseling, but also a 24/7 hotline to teens, families or professionals looking for support, guidance or connections to other community supports.
Q: How does the work of the Teen Counseling Program contribute to the future of Charlottesville?
Dee: We hope that the work of TCP impacts Charlottesville by creating more connections and promoting safer environments for our teens and families. We hope that teens feel they are not alone in the challenging moments and that they feel more stable and ready to take the next steps in their journeys.
Jordan: The city’s youth are the city’s future. TCP supports them by helping them build resilience in times of struggle, so that they can do the same in their relationships and communities in the future.
It’s been a rough 10 days for Charlottesville.
If you’re swinging from anger to fear to depression – you’re not alone.
These are common responses to grief.
ReadyKids is here to provide hope and healing for children and families in Charlottesville who are struggling.
Survivors, parents, first responders, therapists and teachers may need extra support following the events of last weekend.
For them our counseling team created a comprehensive list of resources to process the violence we witnessed.
Resources for Survivors
- Tips for Survivors of a Disaster or Other Traumatic Event: Managing Stress—This tip sheet gives stress prevention and management tips for dealing with the effects of trauma, mass violence, or terrorism. Lists tips to relieve stress, describes how to know when to seek professional help, and provides accompanying resources. Also available in Spanish.
- Coping with Grief after Community Violence – This SAMHSA tip sheet offers introduces some of the signs of grief and anger after an incident of community violence, provides useful information about to how to cope with grief. And offers tips for helping children deal with grief.
- Effects of traumatic stress after mass violence, terror, or disaster—This National Center for PTSD webpage describes the emotional, cognitive, physical, and interpersonal reactions that disaster survivors may experience and discusses the potentially severe stress symptoms that may lead to lasting PTSD, anxiety disorders, or depression. Information on how survivors can reduce their risk of psychological difficulties and to recover most effectively from disaster stress is also provided.
- Media coverage of traumatic events: Research on effects—The National Center for PTSD presents information on the effects of intense media exposure following a disaster. The website describes the association between watching media coverage of traumatic events and stress symptoms. Guidance for providers who work with children and their parents to avoid retraumatization is also provided.
Resources for Parents
- Parent tips for helping adolescents after disasters—This table lists possible reactions, suggested responses, and examples of things parents can do and say to children affected by a disaster.
- Parent tips for helping infants and toddlers after disasters—This table lists possible reactions, how to understand them, and suggestions that can help parents
of infants and toddlers cope with their emotions after a disaster.
- Parent tips for helping preschool-age children after disasters—This table lists possible reactions, suggested responses, and examples of things parents can do and say to preschool-age children affected by a disaster.
- Parent tips for helping school-age children after disasters—This table lists possible reactions, suggested responses, and examples of things parents can do and say to school-age children after a disaster.
Resources for First Responders (police, E.R. staff, clergy, etc.)
- Preventing and Managing Stress: Tips for Disaster Responders—This SAMHSA tip sheet provides tips to help disaster response workers prevent and manage stress. Includes strategies to help responders prepare for their assignment, use stress-reducing precautions during the assignment, and manage stress in the recovery phase of the assignment.
- A Guide to Managing Stress in Crisis Response Professions—This SAMHSA pocket guide provides first responders with information on signs and symptoms of stress and offers simple, practical techniques for minimizing stress responses prior to and during disaster response.
- Understanding compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction: Tips for disaster responders—This SAMHSA DTAC podcast can help disaster behavioral health professionals learn about the positive and negative effects of helping disaster survivors.
- Psychological First Aid: How You Can Support Well-being in Disaster Victims— This fact sheet by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains how disaster response workers can use psychological first aid to help people in distress after a disaster.
Resources for Therapists
- Talking to Kids about Discrimination – This document can help parents and other caretakers understand how to broach the topics of
discrimination and difference with young children.
- APA Race in America: Tips on Talking with Children About Racism – A brief APA Psychology Today blog about discussing race with children. This was designed for parents and can be used by mental health clinicians.
- Building resilience to manage indirect exposure to terror – This helpful resource provides information you can use to support preparedness and self-care for play therapists, colleagues, and caregivers. The description from the website reads: “Acts of terror are purposefully designed to scare people and make them fearful for the safety of their community and their loved ones … Taking steps to build resilience — the ability to adapt well to unexpected changes and events — can help people manage distress and uncertainty.”
Resources for Teachers
- Teachers—This fact sheet can help parents, caregivers, and teachers recognize and address problems in children and teens affected by a mass casualty event. Readers can learn about signs of stress reactions that are common in young survivors at different ages, how to help children through grief.
- Teaching Tolerance – The Teaching Tolerance website has lesson plans for students as young as kindergarten that cover bias and social justice.
- National Association for School Psychologists, Lesson Plan and Resources on Race and Privilege – From this comprehensive site – “In light of the recent events, we encourage you to access our social justice resources to navigate conversations on race and privilege. As schools reopen nationwide, now is the time to advocate for professional development around this important issue. View our lesson plan for middle and high school students, as well as other resources on implicit bias, racism and prejudice, and more.”
- NPR Resources for Educators To Use In The Wake Of Charlottesville – An NPR page that lists a number of resources to use in schools to explore and understand the event and related concepts.
- 10 Children’s Books That Help White Kids Understand What Children of Color Are Up Against – This site has books across age ranges and complexity and provides brief descriptions of the books.
- Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide – A guide from the Southern Poverty Law Center that sets out 10 principles for fighting hate in communities. The guide provides information about how to engage with the media, definitions of terms, such as hate crimes and bias incident, and ways to support victims.
The upcoming Alt Right Rally scheduled for August 12th may be challenging for youth in our community. For some, it may trigger feelings of stress and fear. This may include: memories of experiences they’ve had, stories they’ve heard, or worries that are part of their daily life already.
For youth who have not personally experienced racial bias or injustice, they may feel confused or unsettled knowing that this is taking place in a community that otherwise has felt safe to them. Either way, we are here to help.
Below are some tips and resources that we hope you will find helpful.
- Media-coverage can increase fears and anxiety in children, graphic images and stories may be particularly upsetting but also can be a great way to launch conversations about what is happening and how you and your family can be part of a positive solution.
- Discuss together what’s happening and reflect on your own experiences and feelings. Keep an open dialogue and seize opportunities for communication.
- Plan time away from the event and coverage of the event.
- Make a plan ahead of time about how you’ll respond if you find yourself in a stressful situation or confronted with racial bias/injustice so that if it happens you’ll be ready to respond safely and constructively.
- Seek help if you’re struggling or if you feel treated unfairly. Our teen hotline is available for you 24/7 and we’d be happy to talk about community resources, be a sounding board, or help advocate for change wherever we can. That number is 434-972-7233.
Building ToleranceThings youth can do to build tolerance:
- Appreciate their own and others’ cultural values
- Object to ethnic, racist, and sexist jokes
- Refrain from labeling people
- Not judge others, especially for things they have no control over
Adults are integral in providing a positive, healthy example for youth to follow. By being tolerant themselves, they can pass that behavior onto the youth with whom they interact.
Things adults can do to help youth:
- Educate the community about hate crimes and diversity
- Making sure that those who work closely with youth (teachers, school administrators, police officers) receive diversity training
- Help develop constructive activities for youth
10 ways youth can engage in activism – While we do not encourage youth in our community to attend the upcoming rally, we do encourage youth to find positive outlets to express their passion for whatever is closest to their hearts. This link provides some suggestions for safe and constructive ways for youth to make a difference.
Culture and Trauma – This compilation of resources from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network contains several resources useful for increasing cultural awareness, sensitivity and understanding for anyone working with diverse youth and families.
Making Sense of News Stories about Bias and Injustice – This article is aims at helping adults facilitate conversations that will engage youth in a constructive dialogue about what they may be seeing on the news.
Book Suggestions – Books can be a powerful tool for helping youth navigate difficult topics. This link contains a comprehensive list of suggestions for all ages.