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My Transgender Daughter, Nicki: A Story of Suffering and Survival

Sharon has a teenage daughter who is transgender. She describes how Nicki was born in a male body but felt from a very young age that she should have been a girl.

“When my child Nick was about two, I realised that he wasn’t playing with toys that I expected a boy to play with. He was interested in dolls and girly dressing-up clothes. At that age, it doesn’t really matter. You just think they’re trying lots of different things, so I never made a fuss about it.

My-transgender-daughter“But when he was four years old, Nick told me that God had made a mistake, and he should have been a girl.

“I asked my GP what I should do. He told me to wait and see, and that it might just be a phase and go away. But it didn’t. It got stronger.

“One day when Nick was six, we were in the car, and he asked me when he could have the operation to cut off his ‘willy’ and give him a ‘fanny’ (*vagina). His older cousin had told him about these things.

“I spoke to a friend who’s a psychiatrist. He said I should contact the Tavistock Clinic [now The Tavistock and Portman service for children and young people with gender identity issues].

“He also told me that the medical term is ‘gender dysphoria’. When I looked it up online, I found Mermaids, a charity that helps children with gender identity issues and their families.

“I also spoke to my GP again, who referred us to the local mental health unit. The person at the unit had worked at the Tavistock and knew about gender identity issues.

“He was brilliant. It was such a relief to talk to somebody who understood what was going on. I’d blamed myself, but he reassured me that it wasn’t my fault. We were then referred to the Tavistock Clinic.

“The team from the Tavistock came to Nick’s school and talked to the teachers. They helped the teachers to understand that Nick wasn’t being difficult, and that this may or may not be a phase. When a child is this young, you just don’t know.”

From Nick to Nicki

“Nicki desperately wanted to be female all the time. When she was 10, we feminised her name from Nick to Nicki at home. The following year, Nicki started secondary school as a girl.

“The school was very supportive, but because she moved up to secondary school with her peer group, everybody knew.

“In the first week, she was called a ‘tranny’ and a ‘man-beast’. She was spat on and attacked in the corridors. Within her first six months of being at that school, she took four overdoses.

“We then pulled her out of school, but after a few months she decided to go back.

“Each year, the bullying and isolation got worse, and Nicki started harming herself. At the beginning of year nine, I transferred her to another secondary school, but unfortunately the kids there found out.

“At that point, I withdrew her from school completely, and the education welfare office found her a place at a Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre, which is a unit for children who can’t cope with mainstream schooling for various health reasons.”

Going Through Puberty

“When Nicki started puberty, I wanted her to get the type of treatment that’s offered in the Netherlands, where puberty is blocked before major physical changes take place.

“I felt that if she was going to change her mind about being a girl, she would have done so by now.

“The Tavistock Clinic wouldn’t give her hormone blockers. [The Tavistock and Portman follows British guidelines, which at the time suggested not introducing hormone blockers until the latter stages of puberty. Since January 2011, the age at which hormonal treatment may be offered has been lowered from 16 to 12, under a research study that is being carried out by the Tavistock and Portman into the effects of hormone blockers earlier in puberty.]

“In the end, we went to a doctor in the US. I found him through the WPATH network (The World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Nicki was 13 when she started taking hormone blockers. It’s put her male puberty on hold, and given her time to think.

“If she hadn’t been given blockers, she would have suffered the psychological agony of going through male puberty. She told me she would have killed herself. Nowadays, you’d never guess that she was born male.

“If at any point Nicki were to tell me that she wasn’t sure that this was the right thing for her, we’d simply stop the injections and male puberty would go ahead.

“For Nicki, the next step is starting hormones and surgery as soon as she can.

“During the first few years of secondary school, I was constantly in fear for Nicki’s life. It was so distressing to watch her go through all of this.

“Now it’s a million times better. She’s a typical teenage girl, and it’s a blessing. She leaves a mess, she borrows my clothes, my make-up and my perfume. I never thought she’d reach this stage. She still has to face many more hurdles but she’s looking forward to adulthood.”

*The names in this article have been changed.

Where to Get Help

Sharon, who tells her story above, says that the most helpful thing was speaking to other families who’ve been through the same thing. The charity Mermaids provides family support for children and teenagers with gender identity issues, and can put you in touch with other parents with similar experiences.

Further Information

The story above reflects one mother’s experience. Because gender identity issues are complex and each case is different, Sharon’s story shouldn’t be seen as typical.

For more information on gender identity issues in children and young people, see: Teenagers and gender identity, and Worried about a child with gender identity issues?

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.





How to Protect Kids From Online Predators

Troubling research about our kids’ lack of online smarts and predators’ new grooming techniques to lure them. Advice based on studies to keep kids safer online and parents and child givers better educated.

Studies show that predators are using more subtle and savvier ways to “befriend” kids including pretending to be another teen or child as a means of forming a relationship.  The purpose of this blog is not to scare you or have you overreact and pull the plug on your computer. The chance that your child will be befriended by an online predator is rare. But the news about two Virginia Tech students befriending and then luring a vulnerable 13 year old online only to allegedly murder her is so horrific and sad that it should make every parent watch their children closer and have a serious conversation about online safety.

But the Virginia Tech story is not isolated. Over the last few months a few parents have contacted me about their children who did encounter online predators. Two teen girls left with those men who groomed them online. Their parents are trying desperately to reunite with their daughters. Both families recognized the warnings I’m giving in this post – but only after I shared them. They urged me to post them. “If we’d only known,” they  told me.

So, not to scare you, just to educate you and hopefully save you from the heartbreak those parents are now enduring.

An Online Predator’s Profile

The term “Sex Predator” is a universal parent nightmare. The term alone sends shock-waves through every bone in our body.

University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center survey rejects the idea that the Internet is an especially perilous place for minors, but finds that the nature of online sex crimes against minors has actually changed little between 2000 and 2006. But we do need to stay educated.

We know online predators do exist, are a very real threat, and use the anonymity of the Internet to their advantage. Here is what you need to know to help your child.

A predator can be a he or a she, young or old, rich or poor, or any race or zip code. Law enforcement officers are noting a change most in the profile of the adult offenders. The proportion of younger adult offenders, aged 18-25, rose from 23 percent to 40 percent of arrests in cases with actual underage victims. The researchers hypothesize that the age shift may be a consequence of younger adults, who came of age online, and are now more likely to seek out victims on the Internet than elsewhere.

The Grooming Process

Regardless of age, predators have one commonality: they are master manipulators when it comes to kids.

Online predators rarely swoop in lure children or teens into quickly meeting at the local park and then abducting them. Instead, they build a relationship with the child online and slowly develop trust.

The actual “Grooming Process” can take several months in which the predator’s goal is to create a comfortable bond between himself and child. That bond is difficult to track but does give parents time if you are monitoring your child and your child’s online presence.

Research finds that one big problem is that kids can’t spot whether they are chatting online with an adult or a teen.

REALITY CHECK: 4 in 5 kids can’t tell age of person they are chatting with

In 2010 students from various ages took part in experiments designed to help researchers know how to create the right software to track pedophiles online.

The 350 children and teens in the study were from the Queen Elizabeth School, Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria. The funded project was part of the Economic and Social Research Council/Engineering and Physical Science Research Council.

The good news in the research (and there is some!): the computer software did “significantly better in correctly working out whether web chat was written by a child or an adult in 47 out of 50 cases–even when the adult was pretending to be a child.” But some findings should be a parenting wake-up call.

What Kids Don’t Know That Could Hurt Them

  • Four in five children can’t tell when they are talking to an adult posing as a child on the internet.
  • Four in five kids thought they were chatting to a teen when in fact it was an adult
  • Students as old as 17 struggle to tell the difference between an adult posing as a child or a real child “befriending” them online
  • Overall only 18% of children taking part in the experiment guessed correctly as to the age of the “predator”

6 Messages to Keep Kids Safer Online

While there’s no guarantee that we can always protect our kids, research is clear that the more educated we are about potential dangers the less likely our children will be victimized. Children who are unsupervised, more vulnerable, lack friends, bullied at school are also more vulnerable to an online predator.

Beware: authorities have growing concerns about popular mobile messaging apps like kik, that allow users to remain anonymous and appeal to a younger crowds. Know the apps that are on your child’s digital devices. 

You must be educated about online safety — and then you need to teach your child those lessons.  Just keep tips age appropriate and remember that it is always better to bridge such a topic in short ongoing chats instead of one big marathon lecture.

A  key point: teens say that “being educated” helps them be safer. You might want to review the research from Queen Elizabeth School with your teen.

Here are a few messages to weave into your critical parenting lessons.

1. “Never-ever-give personal data online”

Never give out personal information online must be your one “no budge” family rule. We taught our children that rule when they were toddlers (“Don’t give your name and phone number to strangers.”) Use the same rule with your older child or teen.

Detective T.J. Shaver of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in Kansas points out: “Predators often use multiple accounts to get information from children. In one account they get a name, on another, they will obtain school information and activities. On a third they will get the child to talk about their hobbies.” Withholding personal data makes it difficult for a predator to befriend a child.

2. “Do not post photos divulging identity and interests”

One way predators try to build “trusting” with a child is by trying to establish  that they “share” similar interests. So predators often search profiles and read emails and chat rooms to gather information about the child’s actual interests or passions and then convince the child that they have a lot in common: Tell your child to never post photos divulging such information. (Such as a kid wearing a hockey jersey. “Hey, I love to play hockey. Do you?” A picture of her with her favorite handbag. “I love Coach bags. What about you?” A t-shirt wearing bearing his school colors, name or mascot,)

3. “I will be supervising that computer”

Do NOT give free reign on that computer. Predators pick up on little cues that certain kids are not supervised – which means easier access for them. (For instance: the child is online for extended periods of time or online during hours when parents would be normally monitoring that computer).

4. “Be wary of any adult who wants to “keep a secret”

Predators want to keep their relationship with a child a secret from . their parent. A predator may also make a threat to the intended victim if “he tells.”

Teach the True Friend Rule: “Would a real friend ever threaten you or your family with harm?”

5. “NEVER ever meet anyone you meet online face to face”

Period. End of statement.

6. “You can tell me anything

Stress to your child messages such as: “I’m here for you. We can work things through. I love you.” In case there is a problem, your child needs to know he or she can come to you and that you are always there for them.

Clues A Child May Have “Online Troubles”

The reality is that your teen may not tell you that he or she is cyber-bullied or approached by a potential predator, but there are clues. The trick is to watch your child’s reactions in certain situations. Each situation is different but there are some warning signs.

Keep in mind that the signs may not indicate a predator relationship, but should be checked out. 

  • Does your child receive strange phone calls, mail or gifts from people you do not know? (A predator may send “gifts” to befriend a child).
  • Does your kid switch screen names quickly or cover up the screen when you walk by the computer?
  • Has your child set up other accounts recently to receive e-mail, texts, or Instant Messaging?
  • Does your child appear nervous when you (or he) goes to the computer?
  • Has your child withdrawn from normal activity and is spending more and more time on the computer?
  • Is your teen suddenly trying to use the computer during off times when you’re not there or in the room?
  • Does your child get jumpy or upset when a phone call, test, voice mail or IM comes in?
  • Is there porn on the computer? While your child may have put that up, do know that predators often send pornographic pictures via the IM session or e-mail or in plain envelope via the mail. (Check your mailbox!) Beware: A predator can also use that pornography that as a scare tactic to a child: “If you cut off our relationship, I’ll tell your parent that you have viewed pornographic pictures.”

Stay educated about the Internet. Know your computer. Know your child. Believe your child. And above all, stay in charge!

***************************************************************************************************************Borba - book cover -parentingsolutions140x180

Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research . The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is available at amazon.com

Should Your Child Take The New Fidget Toy Out For A Spin?

Fidget toys called Spinners have become a huge fad for kids. They all seem to love them. Meanwhile, most teachers and parents seem to hate them. In fact, Spinners are being banned in many schools. Some kids are crushed and some parents are furious. Where do you stand? Let’s take a look at Spinners and fidget toys in general and see if we can figure out this issue.

Old school types usually say, “Why are kids being allowed to bring toys to school these days? Why can’t they just sit still?” Here’s the thing – kids have always needed to fidget. They have been tapping pencils, wiggling their feet, chewing their nails, drawing on notebooks and countless other things since formal schooling began. Some of this behavior is expected by teachers, and they know how to manage it in their classrooms. But for some kids, movement is imperative.

Kids who have learning disabilities, or are on the autism spectrum, or have other challenges really DO need to move. It’s not that they are being disruptive, it’s just the way they are wired. Some schools today are getting rid of recess and PE, leaving these kids even less opportunity to be physically active during their day. This leaves kids with even more need to fidget.

Enter the fidget toy. A true fidget is not really a toy but more of a therapeutic tool. The first one I ever saw was an elastic band that was tied across the legs of a desk or a chair and the student could bounce their legs on the band. Some fidgets are much less physically active – putty has been gaining ground in classrooms lately. Rubik’s Cube is a classic example of a fidget for the hands, but it can be loud and distracting to the other students. Fidgets don’t all have to have a solution or an endpoint. Putty can be sculpted into something, but it can also be simply manipulated for the sensory input. In a classroom with an inclusive population, where some kids have special needs and some are “typical” as the term goes, can you allow some students to have these items and say no to the others? This creates even more issues in a classroom.

Enter the Spinner. They come in many colors and materials, and some even light up. They are very well named – they spin. That’s all they do. Some have one circle, others have three, and you can move the spinning bearing to change the motion and the sensation.

All people are drawn to spinning items, this is why there is a now a job called sign spinner, why children have played with spinning tops all throughout history and why pinwheels and whirligigs have been popular since they were invented in China in 400 BC (yes, I did my research). People on the autism spectrum are especially drawn to spinning items, so I could see Spinners calming a tantrum (I work with special needs kids and know first hand that tantrums don’t only happen to toddlers). But in reality they are just being used to show off the latest color or model and taunt the kids who don’t have them. They are also being used as weapons, to poke or spin on someone else’s skin. Eventually they will end up being thrown at someone. They do sort of look like Ninja stars, and many manufacturers have Ninja Star Spinners so clearly I am not the only one who made the connection – and some of those types look very sharp!

To see what all the hype is about I played with one. The key word is PLAYED – it is certainly a toy. If you change the heavy part to one of the outer rings it does have an interesting weighed effect, but I really only see the benefits for kids with special needs and/or sensory issues. I think Spinners would be useful for kids who stim, not necessarily for kids who fidget. You can find a good Spinner for that here.

Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders. It is considered a way in which autistic people calm and stimulate themselves. Another theory is that stimming is a way to relieve anxiety, and other emotions. Common stimming behaviors (sometimes called stims) include  repeating noises or words and spinning objects.  …Wikipedia

A compromise might be to establish rules for when, where and how Spinners may be used. Parents and/or teachers could brainstorm some rules as well as consequences. Maybe they can be used at recess but not in the classroom, or maybe if the class finishes the day’s lesson plan early they would be given some time at the end of class to bring out their Spinners, which might even encourage better classroom behavior. Perhaps they could be attached to the underside of desks so they can be spun out of sight.

While doing research I also found some Youtube videos that teach Spinner tricks which might get the kids up and active trying to balance, toss and catch the toy. There are also instructions for making your own Spinners, so break out the craft supplies and turn off the video games!

Video: How to Introduce Your Child to Sleeping in a Bed

In this brief video, NHS Health Visitor, Sara, discusses how to approach moving your young child from a cot (*crib) to a bed and gives some tips for success.

Editor’s Note: Video Highlights

  • child-moving-to-a-bedThere are no hard-and-fast rules for when to move your baby from a cot (*crib) to a bed – do it when it feels comfortable for your child and for you
  • From 18 months, you might find that your child is too big for a cot or is trying to climb out – that’s the time to move them into a bed
  • For some children, moving from a cot to a bed is really exciting and they accept it really well
  • For other children, they might feel a bit stressed about the change – so you might need to choose a calm time in their life
    • Challenging times for moving from a cot to a bed can be if you’re moving house, if you’ve gone back to work or if your child is not feeling well
  • You may need to move your child to a bed if you have another baby on the way – if so, do it about six to eight weeks before your new baby is born, to help keep your child from being unsettled with too much change
  • Once sleeping in a bed, your child might get up in the night and wander around, so be sure to childproof their room
    • Put a stair gate across the door
    • Check their room for any electrical appliances or wires they could trip over, any small toys or objects they can get hold of or any cord blinds that they could get tangled in
    • You might also want to put barrier next to the bed or put cushions on the floor in case they fall out
  • If your child doesn’t like the bed initially and they want to protest, just stay calm, reassure them, give them a cuddle, but put them back in the bed
    • You might find that you have to do it a few times, but if you’re consistent, they’ll soon get used to being in the bed
  • When your child has slept in the bed, or had some naps in the bed, praise them because it can make a big difference to their confidence and they’ll feel much more willing to sleep in the bed if you praise them for what they’ve done

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

 





Condoms: Knowing these Facts Could Keep Your Teen Safe

There are a lot of myths about condoms, so make sure that you are aware of the facts before you have sex.

MYTH: It’s safer if you use two condoms.
TRUTH: No it isn’t. Using two condoms at once is a really bad idea, whether it’s two male condoms or a male and female condom. It increases the chances of them ripping. Only use one at a time.

condom factsMYTH: Condoms break easily.
TRUTH: No they don’t. To avoid a condom breaking, you need to put it on carefully, ensuring there’s no airbubble at the end. Be careful of sharp nails, jewelry or teeth. If the condom won’t roll down, it’s the wrong way round. Throw this condom away and start again with a new one as there could be semen on the tip of the previous condom.

If a condom breaks and you’re not using any other contraception, go to a clinic, pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible and ask about emergency contraception. You’ll also need to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

MYTH: Condoms are the only type of contraception I need to think about.
TRUTH: No they’re not. Condoms can provide protection from STIs and unintended pregnancy. But to ensure the best protection, it is recommended that you and your partner use a condom and another form of contraception. There are many different types of contraception that can be used, including the implant, injection, coil or the pill. It’s worth exploring all options.

MYTH: You need extra lube. Vaseline is good.
TRUTH: No it’s not. A bit of extra lubrication is good but don’t use anything with oil in it as it can dissolve the condom – that includes baby oil, Vaseline and hand cream. Lipstick has oil in it too. Use a water-based lubricant, such as KY jelly or Durex Play from a pharmacy.

MYTH: Condoms make him less sensitive.
TRUTH: Using a condom doesn’t have to spoil the moment. They can make some men last longer before they come, which is good news for both of you. There are many different sizes, shapes, colours, textures and flavours of condoms, so enjoy finding the one that suits you both best.

MYTH: Condoms cut off his circulation.
TRUTH: No they don’t. A condom can stretch to 18 inches round. He’ll be fine. There are many different shapes and sizes available to try.

MYTH: I’m on the pill, so we don’t need condoms.
TRUTH: Yes you do. The pill does not protect you or your partner from STIs. Also, if you’ve forgotten to take a pill, been sick or you’ve been using antibiotics, the effectiveness of the pill is reduced and you could still get pregnant.

MYTH: If I ask to use a condom, my partner will think less of me.
TRUTH: Insisting that you use a condom suggests that you know how to take care of yourself and shows that you know what you want, which can be very sexy.

MYTH: You don’t need a condom if you’re having oral sex.
TRUTH: Yes you do. You should use a condom for oral sex because gonorrhoea, chlamydia and herpes can be passed to each other this way.

MYTH: You have to be 18 to buy condoms.
TRUTH: No you don’t, you can buy condoms at any age. You can also get them free at any age, as well as confidential advice, from community contraception clinics (formerly family planning clinics), Brook centres, sexual health (GUM) clinics, Further Education colleges and young people’s clinics.

MYTH: I don’t need a condom – I only sleep with nice people.
TRUTH: STIs don’t know or care if you’re nice or not. The way someone looks is no indicator of whether they have an STI. Many STIs don’t show any symptoms, so you could infect each other without even knowing it.

MYTH: If it’s a condom, it’s safe.
TRUTH: Not necessarily – novelty condoms aren’t safe. Always choose condoms that carry the European CE or Kite mark, which is a recognised safety standard. Also check the date on the packet as condoms don’t last forever.

 





The Do’s and Don’ts of Easter Candy

We hope all of you had a wonderful Easter!

Kids eating chocolate rabbit on Easter egg huntEverybody knows Easter is a holiday filled with sweet, sweet treats. Easter candy is loaded with sugar, which is obviously not a great recipe toward managing your child’s oral health. Don’t let us fool you – our team loves our desserts – in moderation! Too much of a sugary treat can be detrimental to your little one’s teeth. As your child digs through his or her Easter basket, consider these different types of candy and how they can affect your child’s smile!

1.) The Sticky Sweets

However melt-in-your-mouth-fantastic these candies may be, don’t over-indulge! These caramels, taffies and gummies can cling to your child’s teeth for hours, hiding in hard-to-reach crevices and growing bacteria. Bacteria in our mouths feed off of sugar to create acidic reactions, so when sticky sweets sit between our teeth for long periods of time, acids begin to damage our enamel.

2.) The Rock-Hard Candies

Lollipops and other hard candy take a while to eat, exposing your child’s teeth to sugar for an extended amount of time. The longer his or her teeth are exposed to sugars, the more chances there are for decay and cavities. In addition to acidic damage, rock-hard candies can also break your kid’s teeth! Ouch!

3.) The Sour Stuff

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most acidic of them all? That’s right – sour treats, although a candy classic, contain an incredible amount of harmful acids. If your child’s enamel didn’t suffer from the sticky sweets, these pucker-inducing candies should do the trick!

Believe it or not, the healthiest Easter candy for your child’s smile is – drumroll, please – chocolate! In moderation, chocolate and other sugar-free treats are a few great ways to give your child some healthier alternatives to Easter candy. Candies containing nuts, if your child is not allergic, can be a great way to break up the sugary consistency of these treats and dark chocolate contains antioxidants that can actually help with the effects of tooth decay.

Remind your children to always brush and floss after indulging in their Easter candy!