ACOP PULSE

THE QUARTERLY PUBLICATION OF THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF OSTEOPATHIC PEDIATRICIANS


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Winter 2016 Issue

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Student Spotlight

Student Perspective

Medical Advice for Parents — Your Child's Gender Identity: Integrating Right to Privacy and Parenting


By Devin Murphy, MSW, MSII

Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine

Research on gender identity was popularized in the 1950’s and explored in children as young as five. Gender identity is a unique field of interest, as it explores a person’s concept of their self as male or female, as opposed to sex, which is a person's biological makeup of male versus female chromosomes. There has also been much buzz in the media regarding individuals whose gender identity (gender concept of themselves) may differ from their biological makeup or whose gender identity may span between male and female. As a parent, you may be questioning how best to support your child during this normal developmental process and how much privacy to offer. This article addresses these concerns.

Gender Identity Development
Gender identity is largely attributed to environmental influences. For example, a child who is assigned female at birth because of her genitalia and who does 'girl things' is likely to receive a positive response from her parents more than when she does 'boy things;’ therefore she internalizes her gender identity as female. An opposing developmental model exists and suggests that, for example, a girl who believes she is a girl must do 'girl things'. Other researchers have proposed that children will mimic the gender role of those they admire. You may begin to see your children independently adopt multiple gender identities throughout their development. If you feel your child is exploring their gender identity, you may be concerned about their right to privacy in schools and at doctor visits, among other scenarios. Similar to gender identity development, your child also develops a sense of privacy; they just may not call it that. Here are some tips to recognize your child's concerns about privacy regarding their gender identity.

Development of Privacy
Gender and sexual development is a normal process that may evolve over time. The Supreme Court has given children and adolescents some sexual rights that overrule parental rights, such as their right to obtain contraception without parental consent. Some children may be concerned about their behavior and/or information they disclose to teachers, peers, and healthcare professionals. If children do not feel a sense of privacy, they may not seek medical care or assistance from adults they admire for fear of bias or rejection. In school, research has shown that students who do not adhere to traditional gender roles assigned by their sex are vulnerable to not only psychological difficulties such as depression, but also decreased academic performance.

By understanding that gender identity is fluid, meaning that it is a normative process for children to explore traditional gender roles as a continual transaction during maturation into adulthood, it will be easier for parents to allow their child to do this autonomously. Research supports long-term positive outcomes for children that feel in charge of their own privacy.

Should You Ask? Should You Tell?
Your job as a parent is difficult, especially now where one day there is a new parenting technique that can save the world and the next day that same technique is rebuked. The good news is that research shows that any type of parental support and involvement will have positive effects on a child's mental health and academic performance regardless of a child's gender identity. This support can decrease feelings of isolation and bullying, a vulnerability for  children exploring multiple gender identities. However, specific to children who are exploring gender and sexual identities, there is a heightened fear of rejection when disclosing to their parents and they tend to rely heavily on peers for support.

What does this mean for you? Allow your child to explore in private. Make them aware of resources they can choose to seek out. Help them seek out these resources. Allow for private moments during doctor and counselor visits. Avoid words that imply judgement like, 'always,' and 'should.' Be able to identify your feelings and try to reflect on why you feel that way. This will provide your child the independence to seek care most appropriate for them, and by providing a supportive environment, they are more likely to bring you along for the ride.

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