Kids Who Don’t Conform to Gender Roles Have Increased Risk of PTSD and Abuse

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Youth Who Did Not Follow Gender Roles As Adults

One of the major concerns for parents of gender nonconforming youth is the notion the child may be homosexual later in life. In an interview with Dr. Andrea Roberts, she told Decoded Science the biggest surprises in the research:

We were surprised that most nonconforming kids were heterosexual in adulthood. We were also surprised that such a common level of nonconformity, that found in 1 in 10 children, was associated with increased risk of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and PTSD.  

The rate of gender nonconforming youth who reported themselves as heterosexual was 85 percent. It goes against the conventional wisdom that so many gender nonconforming youth would be heterosexual in life.

When asked what constitutes gender nonconforming, Dr. Roberts replied,

We looked at whether kids portrayed males or females in their pretend play, or admired males of females in movies, TV. Boys are very conforming, on average. They typically respond ‘always’ or ‘usually’ male. A nonconforming boy might respond ‘equally male and female’. Girls are less conforming. A nonconforming girl might respond ‘usually male’ or ‘always male’. 

Male children are more likely to be abused for gender nonconformity than females: Photo by Matthew Hale

Parents As The Abusers

In the study results, the parents and trusted adults were the most likely to abuse children who did not conform to gender norms. Parents in these families assaulted their own children for failing to meet preconceived standards of gender normalcy.

Dr. Roberts offers the following advice to parents of gender nonconforming children.

Support your child with the gender expression they have. Parental acceptance and attention in childhood is vital to the child’s mental and physical health, even as s/he grows into adulthood. Parents’ treatment of children has long-lasting impact on them. Also, the child’s gender expression may have nothing to do with the child’s future sexual orientation. 

Understanding Children is Key

Not all children will fall into traditional gender roles, but all children require a home safe from abuse. Parents and adults should work to understand and openly engage with children on a healthy level, regardless of gender identification or other behaviors, to avoid the life-long consequences of abuse, including PTSD.

References:

Roberts, A., Austin, S., Koenen, K., Corliss, H., & Rosario, M. Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth(2012). Pediatrics. Accessed February 28, 2012.

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