Alexandria BleichBody ImageTeens

Is It Just a Phase? A Guide for Parents of Transgender Teenagers

An image of the Transgender Pride Flag, with colors of white, pink, and blue. This flag represents all children, youth, and adults that identify as part of the transgender community. Parenting a transgender teen may require some extra guidance for some people but a teen gender affirming therapist can help. Find an affirming therapist in Scotch Plains or Branchburg today!

Parenting teens can be a challenge. Navigating the challenges of adolescence while tacking on gender identity concerns adds a new layer of complexity and uncertainty. In my experience as a therapist counseling transgender youth in New Jersey, it is not uncommon for parents to wonder if the gender journey is “just a phase” or something they will eventually grow out of. Understanding your child’s identity and providing them with love and support is crucial for their mental health and well-being. 

The goal of this blog is to help parents o t on this journey, to dispel some common myths, and to offer guidance, resources, and tips to continue fostering a loving and affirming environment for your child. 

The Difference Between Gender Identity and Gender Expression

In order to best support your child, it is important to understand the difference between gender identity and gender expression. 

Hands holding four of the gender identity symbols. From left to right they are bigender in purple, female in pink, transgender in purple, and male in blue. Learn how to support your transgender child with a counselor that understands transgender youth.

Gender Identity: how a person internally identifies their gender

Gender Expression: how a person outwardly expresses that identity


It is important to note that these do not always align. How someone expresses their gender, may not be consistent with their gender identity. 

Self-discovery and Exploration in Adolescence

One of the most common concerns I hear from parents after their child has come out as trans or non-binary is, “Maybe it’s just a phase! How could they possibly be sure at this age?” Indeed, some teens may experiment with different labels and expressions, which could shift and change over time. But the truth is, self-discovery is a milestone of development in adolescence. Teenagers go through a period of self-exploration where they start to question who they are. For some, that may look like exploring values and relationships. For others, that may look like exploring identity, including sexuality and gender. 


Transgender individuals have a deep and lasting knowledge of their true gender that persists throughout their lives. 


It’s essential to trust your child’s knowledge of their own identity, and remember that being transgender is not a choice. Gender identity is a fundamental aspect of who a person is. Transgender teenagers are often acutely aware of their gender identity, and dismissing or denying it can lead to emotional distress and strained family relationships.

Early Signs Are Often Present

In many cases, transgender teenagers have experienced these feelings for many years before they come out. In my work counseling NJ transgender youth, I ask about any signs the teen may have exhibited over the years. Perhaps they expressed discomfort with their assigned gender or showed a strong preference for clothing, toys, or activities typically associated with the gender they now identify with. These early signs suggest that their identity is not a fleeting phase.

Gender Dysphoria in NJ teens

Gender dysphoria: the distress experienced by transgender individuals due to the incongruence between their gender identity and sex assigned at birth. 


This feeling often becomes more pronounced during adolescence, especially during and after they have gone through puberty.


Common Parent Concerns:

A common concern parents may have about their child transitioning is the safety of medical transition options like puberty blockers or  hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Planned Parenthood has a wealth of information that discusses the intricacies of transgender healthcare. It’s crucial to consult with knowledgeable healthcare professionals, such as endocrinologists who specialize in transgender health care. These professionals can guide you and your teenager through the process. Medical transitions are generally considered safe when overseen by competent medical providers. That being said, transitioning doesn’t necessarily mean undergoing HRT, extensive surgeries or completely changing one’s appearance. The transition process is a deeply personal journey, and the path varies from person to person. Transitioning in any sense is not a requirement of being transgender, and whether or not someone desires to transition in any sense does not make their identity any more or less real and valid.

In my experience counseling transgender teens in New Jersey, I have also encountered many parents who are concerned about the pace of the transition process. A common concern is that the process will be too rapid, going from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye. But, transitioning is a gradual process that unfolds at an individual’s (and their family’s) own pace. Typically, an individual will transition internally first. Meaning, an individual has thrown around some ideas about their gender. They may have tried using a different name or pronouns for themself.  Indeed, they may have been reflecting on how that feels for some time. This often happens prior to an individual coming out. As mentioned earlier, this could have been happening for quite some time without your knowledge. 


Forms of Transitions:Different flags of the LGBTQIA+ community overlayed with a felt board and writing that reads, "Ask My Pronouns." Understanding the transitions of transgender youth can be difficult. Seek therapy with a transgender youth counselor to help guide the process.

This is why social transitions are largely seen as the “first” step. These may involve outward changes in name, pronouns, clothing, changing voices, etc. Social transitions occur after someone has chosen to come out to folks in their life. 

There is also the process of legally transitioning. This can vary state to state, individuals can legally change their name and/or gender markers on their legal documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, school and/or work documents etc. 


If desired, medical interventions like hormone therapy or surgeries may also be considered for physical transitions. But it is also important to note that individuals may also choose to non-medically physically transition via binding, padding, tucking or stuffing. These are non permanent  strategies that an individual may use to feel gender euphoria. 


There’s no one-size-fits-all timeline, and some transgender individuals may not pursue medical interventions at all. However, seeking professional guidance and affirming your child’s gender identity through medical and psychological support can provide clarity and relief.

Connecting With Support Groups and Educating Yourself

Having resources for yourself as a parent of a transgender teen can be so helpful. Groups that are specifically for parents of transgender teenagers and youth can provide a space for sharing experiences, seeking advice, and learning from others who have walked a similar path.  

I encourage you to really take the time to educate yourself about transgender issues, gender diversity, and the experiences of transgender teenagers. As parents, the onus is not on your child to teach you everything there is to know about what it means to be transgender. It is your role to do the research and become knowledgeable about the issues they may face. It is important to use reputable sources, such as the ones linked below, to make sure the information you are digesting is accurate and free of bias. Knowledge is a powerful tool in understanding and supporting your child.

Advocate for Your ChildAn image of two individuals embracing each other with a hug. One individual is older than the other and this may symbolize the strength in providing affirming support for transgender youth. Find an affirming transgender youth counselor in Scotch Plains or Branchburg, NJ today!

​​Being the parent of a transgender teen means becoming an ally and advocating for them in school and other institutions. This means working with their teachers, administrators, and healthcare providers to ensure their needs are being met. On a larger scale, this could mean advocating for inclusive policies and anti-discrimination measures. 

Celebrate Your Child’s Authentic Self

Ultimately, the journey of parenting a transgender teenager is about celebrating and supporting your child’s authentic self. Embracing their gender identity, acknowledging their uniqueness, and loving them unconditionally will help them thrive during this crucial period of self-discovery.

The Mental Health Impact of Non-Acceptance & The Importance of Affirmation

While my intention of this blog is not to fearmonger, it would be remiss not to share the impact that the lack of parental support has on transgender youth. Transgender teenagers who are not supported in their gender identity face a higher risk of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. In a study that assessed parental support of LGBTQ+ young adults, individuals who reported high levels of parental rejection were six times more likely to experience high levels of depression, and were eight times more likely to attempt suicide (Ryan et al., 2009).  


Teens who have at least one accepting adult in their life are 40% less likely to attempt suicide. 


Meaning the more support a transgender teen has from adults in their life, the odds significantly lessen that they will attempt suicide. In my work counseling NJ transgender youth, I understand that parents sometimes worry that wholeheartedly supporting their teen will potentially leave them in the position of later finding out this was “just a phase.”  In reality, the research tells us that the more salient worry should be “will not supporting my teen leave me in a position of not having the option to support them later?”


Ways you can affirm your child’s gender identity include:

  • Using their affirmed name and pronouns
  • Supporting their gender expression choices
  • Seeking professional guidance when needed


These actions can make a significant difference in their mental health and overall well-being. Social support by peers and adults in teenagers’ lives can literally make all the difference. Therapists with experience counseling transgender youth will all tell you: social support is the biggest protective factor for suicide prevention. 

Be Patient With Yourself

This is a learning process for all involved! This is new territory, and with new territory comes a bit of a learning curve. Not only is it okay to make mistakes, anticipate them. What matters most in this situation is your commitment to support and love your child. You may not get it right 100% of the time, but your child will absolutely know that you are trying. 


While it’s natural for parents to have questions and concerns when their teenager comes out as transgender, it’s important to approach the situation with an open heart and an open mind. Your child’s gender identity is not just a phase; it’s an integral part of who they are. By understanding, affirming, and supporting them, you can help your transgender teenager navigate their journey with love, acceptance, and resilience. Remember that your teenager’s journey is unique, and your support plays a vital role in their happiness and well-being. Stay informed, stay connected, and continue to be the loving parent your child needs during this important time in their life.


Counseling Transgender Youth in Scotch Plains, NJ and Branchburg, NJ

Counseling for transgender youth in New Jersey involves individualized support for the child or teen, as well as parenting support and family therapy. Our team of caring therapists are honored to work alongside NJ parents of transgender teenagers in our work counseling transgender youth.   We offer support from our Scotch Plains and Branchburg, NJ-based practice. To start your therapy journey, follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact Brave Minds Psychological Services
  2. Meet with a caring therapist 
  3. Start connecting with your teen

Other Services Offered at Brave Minds Psychological Services

Therapy for teens and counseling transgender youth are not the only services we offer from our Scotch Plains and Branchburg, NJ-based therapy practice. Other services offered include online therapytrauma therapyanxiety treatment for childrenchild sexual abuse therapyanxiety treatment for teensteen social phobia therapyadult anxiety counselingcouples counselingcounseling for parentspostpartum counselingbirth trauma therapysexual assault counseling for adults, and food allergy therapy.


Headshot of Alexandria Bleich.