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Children's Health

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Kids With Gender Noncomformity at Increased Risk for Abuse

Study Highlights Risks Associated With Gender Nonconformity

Gender Expression continued...

They also were asked about physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and were screened for PTSD. The study did not ask kids about how they dressed or wore their hair during childhood.

Men and women who were drawn to toys, TV shows, and characters that were typically associated with the opposite sex were more likely to report sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Rates of PTSD were almost twice as high among young adults who were gender-nonconforming in childhood when compared with those who were not, the study shows.

Message to the Children: This Too Shall Pass

Things will improve, says Edgardo J. Menvielle, MD. He is a psychiatrist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It may not seem like it, but this too shall pass.

“The teenage years are the worst time for these kids, but we know it gets better,” he says. “If kids or teens are in a situation where families are abusive or very critical, they will find other people in the community when they are on their own and grown up. These kids should not feel like they are freaks or abnormal.”

Gender roles are changing rapidly in today's world for men and women, with stay-at-home dads, CEO moms, and the emergence of "the manny," says Robin Friedman, a psychotherapist in private practice in Westchester, N.Y., and New York City. "This study points to the fact that in many homes, expressions of gender nonconformity by children and teens are not considered acceptable and may even be looked upon as taboo."

Some parents may respond with love and support, others may respond with concern, or with alarm bells ringing, while others may respond with anger, or emotional or physical abuse, she says.

Victor Fornari, MD, is the director of child/adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He says that gender nonconformity is on everyone’s radar these days: “People are now more aware of it, but it is not new.”

Bullying is an issue for these kids. “Now the data suggests a higher risk for maltreatment than other children,” he says. Society is more open about a lot of things today, including homosexuality, and this is a good thing. But “in many families, due to cultural and religious backgrounds, these youth are faced with resistance and anger, and many become depressed and suicidal because of feeling rejected.”

Signs of abuse can include feelings of isolation, depression, aggressiveness, decreased self-care, and decreased self-esteem. "Children or teens who are able to recognize these symptoms and feelings in themselves ought to seek help immediately from other caring adults such as teachers, school social workers, or community mental health professionals. There are hotlines available too," Friedman tells WebMD.

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