We Can Affirm AND Challenge Young People

By Liz Thorne

A recent article in the Atlantic explored gender and the intersections of adolescent development, medical care, and parenting. Through the experiences of young people, trans and gender non-conforming folks, families and researchers, the article explores the central question of how to balance providing young people the support (from family support and mental health services to puberty-blocking drugs, hormones and/or surgery) they need while keeping in mind that adolescence is a time of identity exploration, and there is a diverse spectrum of gender identities beyond cis and trans- over 50 different identities are listed on Facebook. The article has received criticism from some readers, often those in the trans/gender non-conforming community for the focus on people who “desist” or “detransition”. Needless to say, there are so many layers to unpack in this issue, but setting that aside for a moment, I want to bring forward the pieces I found poignant as a cisgender female, heterosexual, White parent and professional working in adolescent and school health.

One thing that stood out to me in the article was the central tension between fully affirming and accepting young people’s (whether it is your child, student, or patient) identity with the pacing of young people making medical decisions that impact them for the rest of their lives. From the perspective of a parent, I fully understand wanting to give your kids all of the resources they need to be successful. I also recognize the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming folks in the medical community, and moving away from any sort of gatekeeping or putting in place hoops to jump through in order to get care.  Youth development practices came to mind while I was reading this article, particularly the tenants of Developmental Relationships, a framework created by the Search Institute’s research in what makes relationships powerful for young people. The elements are:

-       Express care

-       Challenge growth

-       Provide support

-       Share power

-       Expand possibilities

Developmental relationships not only express care and provide support, but they challenge growth. We need both. Mental health, influences of peers and social groups and societal and cultural norms all contribute to the development of gender identity, and all of these layers need to be interrogated by young people as they figure out who they are. However, that nuanced and critical analysis of themselves and their culture by young people needs to happen in an environment where they are affirmed and supported.

A well-trained team of providers working in partnership with youth and families will lead to better outcomes.

Sharing power, particularly with regard to the medical community for trans and gender non-conforming young people is paramount. A well-trained team of providers working in partnership with youth and families will lead to better outcomes. Finally, expanding the possibilities for young people as they explore their identities, to me, is to continually challenge stereotypical gender norms and roles. This is something we talk about a lot in our family. Case in point- my 2 year old son loves to wear his big sister’s dresses. It is fascinating to see how this one clothing choice changes the way the world interacts with him. Yet, when he plays loud and rough he is “all boy”. We constantly challenge those gender stereotypes as they come up (which is almost everyday). Boys can wear dresses. Girls can have short hair. Boys can play with baby dolls. Girls can be loud and climb things.

Whether you like or dislike the Atlantic article as written, one thing that I think even critics can agree with is that the foundation of any healthy identity development must be affirmation, love and support.  It stood out to me that many of the young people in the article were surrounded by affirming and supportive parents and had the means and ability to access medical professionals who also affirmed their identity. This is not the case for many young people in this country. We all can do our part to create a more affirming and loving society- in our homes, communities and institutions. Below are lists some actions I came up with, and would love to hear others from anyone reading this as well!

-       Support statewide policies that make access to medical services for trans and gender-non-confirming youth available and affordable.

-       Make sure your state department of education and school district has a non-discrimination and student rights policy that includes trans and gender-nonconforming students as a part of Title IX, as Federal guidance on the issue was rolled back by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

-       Support your school to have an all-user bathroom and policies that allow students to use the locker room that aligns with their gender identity.

-       Call students by their preferred pronouns. Let them wear clothing that makes them feel good.

-       Ensure comprehensive sexuality education includes information and skill building around respect for people with different gender identities.

-       Bring voices from the trans/gender non-conforming community into your classroom. Engage your school’s Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) and reach out to organizations run by and for folks in the trans and gender non-conforming community.

-       Challenge stereotypical gender norms and tell the young people in your life you love them, for who they are, daily.

-       Support and donate to organizations in your community that serve trans and gender non-conforming youth and families.

 

Resources:

-       The Trevor Project https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

-       Human Rights Campaign, Welcoming Schools professional development program. http://www.welcomingschools.org/

-       Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project http://www.thetaskforce.org/current_action/transgender-non-conforming-justice-project/

Health and Physical Education Teacher, Angela Stark shares her experience Attending SHAPE America

Written by Cairn Guidance in partnership with the Dove Self Esteem Project

Angela Stark was thrilled to hear that she was one of two national educators to win the Dove Self Esteem Project (DSEP) incentive opportunity. Angela, a health and physical education teacher in Lexington, Kentucky, won an all-expense paid trip to the SHAPE National Convention in Boston in March of 2017.

Angela-Stark.jpg

Angela talked with us about her school demographics. The School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA) has a lot of students who dance. Dancers can feel pressure to look a certain way, so she believed that the Dove Self-Esteem Project might be able to help her dancers and all of her students with their self-image. DSEP tools and resources can provide students an opportunity to not only focus on their physical appearance, but to see the value in their talents, skills, and attributes. The curriculum, with two options – a single-lesson or five-lesson program, helps students hone their skills in analyzing influences to reflect on the impact of unattainable appearance ideals seen in media.

Angela piloted the program in a co-ed classroom with her 6th graders. All youth appreciated hearing from different perspectives and viewpoints on how they feel impacted by appearance ideals.

Angela delivered the lessons in both fall and spring to cover all of her students. She started with the single-lesson in fall and continued using the five-lesson program as a booster and an opportunity for students to practice skills-based instruction around communication, assessing information and analyzing influences.

We asked her what her experience winning an all-expense paid trip to SHAPE America was like and she said, “Awesome! It was great to promote things that I believe in and trust as I do with the DSEP. In addition, growing as an educator to benefit students is essential to being a great educator, so attending the SHAPE convention allowed me to do that.”

Angela shared with us that the connections she made and the information learned from this experience have been priceless! But more importantly, she is thankful for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, which impacted her students in such a positive way.

Thank you Angela for sharing your insights on the Dove Self-Esteem Project!

To find out how you can attend the 2018 SHAPE America Convention, or the national or state conference of your choice, please email Samantha@cairnguidance.com for more information.

Dove Middle School Self Esteem Project

UPDATE: Participate in this week's free SHAPE America webinar to learn more about the program and win a chance to attend a national conference of your choice, at no cost! You may watch the webinar at a later date as well, however, register here

Why is body confidence and self-esteem important for students?

The early teen years are one of the most dynamic in terms of development- physically, emotionally and socially. Fitting in and being accepted by peers is central. In fact, brain science tells us that during early adolescence social acceptance by peers may be processed by the brain similarly to other pleasurable rewards, such as receiving money or eating ice cream. In most cases, affinity for peer groups leads to the healthy identity development and an increase in social connections. However, the drive to be accepted socially can lead to issues like disordered eating, engaging in risky behaviors (like drinking and drug use) or depression. Young people need the support of caring teachers and adults to help them build skills to make healthy choices. Among high schoolers in the US:

•One in five reported being bullied on school property, and is more common among girls than boys (25% vs 15%). Young people are bullied for a number of reasons, but appearance, including body shape, weight, and skin, are common.

•30% were depressed in the past year. Again, more girls reported being depressed than boys (40% vs. 20%).

There is growing acknowledgement that social/emotional and mental health of students is a vital ingredient to success in school and beyond the classroom. Self-esteem works in concert with other personality traits, like openness, conscientiousness and belief in one’s ability to overcome obstacles (self-efficacy). Research has found that self-esteem positively impacts academic self-efficacy and belief that school is important, which in turn impacts academic success (like grades).                          

What is the Confident Me curriculum?                            

Dove’s Confident Me is designed to promote body confidence in a classroom setting. The lessons are aimed primarily at 11-14 year olds, but can also be used with older girls and boys if you think it’s appropriate for your students. The free downloadable materials include a range of curriculum-relevant teaching resources, developed in collaboration with teachers and students. Research has shown that students who participate in Dove Confident Me workshops have improved body image and self-esteem, and they feel more confident to participate in social and academic activities.

The core themes covered in Confident Me include: Appearance Ideals, Competing and Comparing Looks, Media and Celebrities, and Body Talk.  There are presentations, teaching guide and student worksheets available to facilitate discussions around body confidence issues.            

How can the Confident Me curriculum can help me meet accountability standards for high-quality health education?

The Confident Me program is currently going through a national pilot implementation process to inform how to update and revise the current single-session and five-session programs to be most relevant in the US classroom. This means alignment to the National Health Education Content Standards (NHES), the Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT) and the effective practices in health education.  

The instruction within Confident Me will support building student knowledge and skills, including analyzing influences, accessing information and advocacy. The HECAT Healthy Behavior Outcomes and knowledge and skill expectations are still to be determined, based on the outcomes of the pilot process.

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), formerly No Child Left Behind, offers new opportunities for states and schools to focus on the social and emotional wellbeing of students. Provisions allow schools to use funding to develop school-wide health programs, such as implementing positive behavior and social-emotional support strategies. Within Title I, II and IV of the new federal legislation, there are opportunities for during and after-school for programs focused on the social-emotional well-being of students.

How can I download the Confident Me curriculum?

The curriculum is currently being updated for use in schools across the country. The link to the single session program is here and the link to the five session program is here.  Both programs may also be found at http://selfesteem.dove.us/

Incentives

Health and PE teachers, school nurses and school counselors may Implement the 1-session or 5-session Confident Me! Middle School Program by December 15, 2016 and win a chance to attend the state conference of your choice or attendance at the SHAPE America Convention in Boston, March 2016—all expenses paid! 9 lucky teachers in total will be selected to win.

To be eligible to win, email Samantha Lowe at Samantha@cairnguidance.com and share the following information with her:

Full Name 

Work Email 

School(s) Name

District

State 

Current Number of Students

References: 
McNeely C, Blanchard J. 2009. The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development. Center for Adolescent Health at John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. High School Survey, 2015. Retrieved from https://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Default.aspx

Di Giunta L et al. 2013. The determinants of scholastic achievement: The contribution of personality traits, self-esteem, and academic self-efficacy. Learning and Individual Differences, 27, 102-108.