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Supporting Your Teen with Grace: Using Their Preferred Name

By Holly Loving, Clinical Therapist

You spent hours and weeks thinking about what name to pick for your child. You imagined holding your baby girl or baby boy, passing that baby around to your relatives while hearing about how much he or she looks like you and your spouse. You have invested years of your life repeating that child’s name in your head and in your dreams while imagining what the future will bring. And here it is….The future is not quite how you imagined it.

Your teenager or preteen is sulky, quiet, withdrawn and wants to be called by another name. They are insisting they are in the wrong body and never feel quite right in their own skin. All you can think of to say is, “What do you mean?” and “What can I do?” As a parent, remember the most difficult time in your life and imagine getting through that alone. Then gather all your strength to support your child through their time of need even though you may not understand what they are going through. What they are asking is that you try. Try to hear them. Try to put aside your nostalgia around their birth name and use their preferred name and pronouns. This is absolutely a big change and may feel like a lot to ask because a name is important. That is exactly why your child is asking that you use the name they prefer over the one given to them. This is not a phase but a transformation–and a very important one.

Your child has probably spent years feeling out of place in their own body. They’ve most likely had a sense that something just wasn’t quite right, and they’ve wanted to be seen differently. For years they may have felt unable to share their true feelings, love themselves fully, or do anything about their reality. Now they arrive at the pre-teen or teenage years, and they’ve mustered the courage to speak up for themselves and share what has been festering inside for some time. They find a friend, share with a professional, or tell you what it feels like to be transgender and how they have been coping alone for years. This could very possibly be a dark time in their lives if they feel rejected and like they are managing their reality alone.

As parents, acceptance is the greatest gift we can offer our children. This is a pillar of unconditional love. Your child needs both from you during this transformation to find success as they journey into adulthood, which they will do with or without you. How you do or do not support them through their experiences will factor into the role you will continue to play in their life. No one expects you to navigate all of this perfectly or bury your feelings. Finding a safe release (supportive family or friends, an outlet like exercise, or meeting with a therapist) is integral to healing and growing with your child rather than apart from them. Contact our office today if you or your family member is coping with major life changes alone and could benefit from a supportive space.

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