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Understanding gender identity in young people

Young people, especially Gen Z, are challenging rigid social norms when it comes to gender identity. They are exploring what it means to them and not always settling for the status quo. We spoke to our practitioners about why it is so important to be open and promote healthy conversation on gender identity in children.

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Gender identity vs sex 

two boys and a girl link arms and walk smiling

Gender identity vs sex

So, let’s get the definitions out of the way. ‘Sex’ and ‘gender identity’ are two different things. ‘Sex’ is assigned at birth based on physical characteristics. ‘Gender identity’ is how a person feels about themselves and how they want others to see them.  

Gender identity is often a divisive and confusing topic when it really doesn’t need to be. A lot of children and young people feel comfortable with the gender they are given. But for others it isn’t so simple. For some children, the match between their assigned gender and gender identity is not so clear. 

A young person might identify as cisgender, transgender, non-binary or intersex. Whatever they choose is up to them. It is our job to listen, educate ourselves and be as open as we can. 

Lockdown and exploring gender 

Melanie is one of our well-being counsellors. She told us about how lockdown has given young people time to reflect more on their identity. 

‘There’s been lots of time for self-reflection. I've got quite a lot of young people questioning their identity. Usually, the minute you stick your head outside the line, the rest of the group tends to pull you back in again.’ 

Young people have been able to have more time in their own space.

Why pronouns are important 

Why pronouns are important

Some adults might shrug off the idea of stating a pronoun. The same arguments time and time again — there are too many to remember, they can’t keep up with different titles, they don’t see why it’s so important. But they are missing the point.

It might feel like a small thing but stating pronouns normalises the idea that not everybody identifies the same way. Nobody should assume a person's pronoun. By teaching children and young people the importance of this we can build a more inclusive generation.

Young transgender woman looks forward in the forest

Discovering identity

Helen is a well-being Practitioner. She reflects on the difficulties she faced discovering her identity growing up

When I was younger, I remember going through a confused age and questioning things.

‘At that time, because of societal norms, I thought I need to go a particular way because it’s the ‘right’ way. I do wonder, did a lot of people do that then because it was expected? There are more people that are now identifying with lots of different pronouns.’ 

gender identity

We learn gender norms outside of the household We learn gender norms outside of the household

Social media’s safe space

Social media has become essential to young people, especially Gen Z. It is a place for young people to connect, keep up with the latest trends and get their voices heard.  

Sometimes young people are targeted and bullied but social platforms can also be a safe space for communities, such as LGBTQ+. They allow young people to explore who they are without being judged. 

beth counsellor

Beth is a counsellor with our well-being service. She has noticed the benefits of social media on gender identity in young people she sees.

‘Those avenues of being able to be gender-fluid are becoming more acceptable amongst young people, but not understood by the older generations. It's becoming the norm to be able to discuss that on forums via social media and other platforms and websites.’ 

Changing with the times 

Children and young people are questioning traditional social norms more and more. They aren’t afraid to explore what gender means to them and how it relates to their identity. The internet and social media provide a place to find out information and form communities. And it is about time we listen. 

We can help by educating ourselves on these topics. We need to be open, engaged and most of all accepting. Together, we can lead the way to a more inclusive future.