CHICAGO — Young transgender children allowed to live openly as the gender they identify with fared as well psychologically as other kids in a small study that suggests parental support may be the key.
Rates of depression and anxiety were equal in the study, which compared 73 transgender kids aged 3 to 12 with 73 non-transgender youngsters. The trans kids also fared as well on both measures as a group of their non-transgender siblings.
Rates of anxiety among trans kids were “a smidge higher” than national averages for children of the same age, but otherwise they matched national norms, said lead author Kristina Olson, an associate psychology professor at the University of Washington.
She said it’s the largest study to examine the psychological health of transgender youth who have socially transitioned. Parents recruited from support groups, conferences and a special website rated their kids’ well-being on a standard mental health scale.
The parents weren’t randomly selected and Olson acknowledged that parents of kids who aren’t well-adjusted may have opted not to take part.
The study “certainly suggests that family support is linked to better mental health,” although that idea wasn’t tested directly and Olson said the results don’t prove that is the explanation for the children’s well-being.
The results were published Friday in the journal Pediatrics.
The findings are “truly stunning,” given previous studies showing high rates of mental health problems including suicidal behavior in transgender children, Dr. Ilana Sherer, a Dublin, California, pediatrician, wrote in a Pediatrics editorial. Most previous research is in children who haven’t come out, Olson said.
Study children had not had any sex reassignment treatment, and some parents initially opposed letting their kids come out.
Micah Heumann, an academic adviser at the University of Illinois’s Champaign campus, was among study participants.
His 10-year-old child, Daniel, was born female, but has identified as a boy ever since he knew about gender, Heumann said.