Sexuality and gender identity: supporting your teenager

13-19 years

As your child grows, they may feel unsure about their sexuality, their gender identity or who they are attracted to. They may also find that their sexuality or gender changes over time.

teen dressed in rainbow clothes on a swing

At a younger age, your child might show curiosity about sex or the changes that happen during puberty. 

Talking about sexuality with your teenager can seem overwhelming. Our page offers guidance and signposts to help support you and your teenager:

Gender identity and sexuality: what's the difference?

letter tiles spelling out "gender is a spectrum"

Gender identity is about how someone feels inside, whether they see themselves as male, female, or another gender. Sexuality is about who they're attracted to. One is about who they are, the other is about who they like.

It's important to differentiate between sexuality and gender identity. Understanding that the development of both is a continuous process, supports your teen as they grow and discover feelings for others.

What is sexuality?

Sexuality is about who your teenager is attracted to romantically and/or sexually. As they grow up, they explore and understand their own feelings. This includes understanding and expressing emotions for others and building respectful relationships.

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is about how you feel on the inside. It's the sense of being male, female, a blend of both, or neither. 

  • Sex is what you are assigned at birth based on your physical characteristics – male or female. 
  • Sexual orientation refers to who you are attracted to. 
  • Gender identity, is how you feel inside and how you identify yourself.

Having language to describe gender identity can be helpful for your teen's mental well-being. It can reduce the distress they may feel from not having the words to explain their feelings.

Below are several definitions you may hear. You may also find Stonewall page of definitions helpful.


  • A term used for people whose gender identity is the same as the gender identity expected of them at birth. 
  • In simple terms, if you were labelled as male when you were born and still feel like a male, you are cisgender. Similarly, if you were assigned female at birth and still identify as female, you are also cisgender.
  • You can learn more about cisgender individuals on GLAAD's cisgender page.


  • People whose gender identity is different to the gender identity expected of them at birth.
  • For example, someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a female is a transgender woman. The opposite is true for someone assigned female at birth who identifies as a male.
  • The Transgender Equality website provides information about transgender individuals.


  • People whose gender identity does not fit within the gender binary of male or female. They may feel like a bit of both, neither, or something entirely different. It's about not conforming to the binary gender system. Right now, nobody is assigned non-binary at birth, which is why many non-binary people also use the trans label. Although, this depends on the person.
  • PFLAG defines non-binary and other terms.

Gender fluid

  • People who do not have a fixed gender identity. Their gender can change over time or in different situations. One day they might feel more masculine, another day more feminine, a mix of both or neither.

The most important thing is to respect your teen's gender identity and use the names and pronouns they identify with.

Pronouns are words used to refer to people without using their names. Common pronouns include:

  • "he/him"
  • "she/her" 
  • "they/them" 
Whiteboard with the writing: "Hello my pronouns are..."

Some people may prefer to use other pronouns to better align with their gender identity. Stonewall Charity provides a list that you may find helpful.

Respecting and using the correct pronouns are important ways to show support for someone's identity.

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria can happen to some trans people. It has been described as an uncomfortable feeling in one's body, both emotionally and physically. It can happen because of someone’s perception of themselves, it can happen because of how others perceive you, or a different reason entirely. It is unique to each person. Doctor’s sometimes use the term as a diagnosis. 

The NHS provides information on the signs of gender dysphoria in children and teenagers and where to get help. 

How to support your teenager with their sexuality

It’s important to know that it’s perfectly okay if your teenager is still figuring out their feelings. They might like boys, girls, non-binary people, or nobody. Or, they might not feel those kinds of feelings yet (or ever), and that is okay too. 

Let your teenager know that you are there to talk to and support them, no matter who they do or don’t have feelings for.

Gender identity: supporting your teen

Understanding and supporting your teen's gender identity is a journey that takes love, patience, and learning. If your teen has shared their sexual orientation or gender identity with you, this may be a big step for them and for you. It's okay to take time to adjust to this new information.

Always remember that your teen's happiness and well-being matter most. Be their advocate and ally as they explore their identity.

You do not have to do this alone; there are many organisations, resources, and communities ready to offer guidance and support for you and your teenager. 

Remember that everyone's experience is unique. It’s important to be flexible in your approach. Your acceptance and willingness to learn and grow together is invaluable to your teenager.

What to do if you have concerns about a child or young person

Barnardo's Positive Identities service provides support to children, young people, families and professionals around sexuality and gender identity. 

  • If your teenager is struggling, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who specializes in LGBTQ+ issues. 
  • Support your teenager in practising self-care. Encourage them to explore activities that boost their confidence and well-being.
  • Regularly check in with your teenager to understand their feelings and experiences.

Our further information section at the bottom of this page will provide links to helpful websites.

Dealing with transphobic bullying 

Transphobic bullying is when someone targets your child because of their gender identity, making them feel uncomfortable or threatened due to transphobic prejudice.

Encourage your teen to talk openly about their experiences and feelings.

  • Contact the school or relevant authorities to ensure their safety (only if the YP has asked for this/with their consent).
  • Offer advice on handling bullying.
  • Get to know your teenager's legal rights about gender identity. UK laws protect individuals from discrimination based on gender identity.

Further resources

Barnardo's Positive Identities service – Supporting LGBTQ+ children, young people, and their families

Barnardo's blog – Why young people need famous LGBT+ roles models

LGBT Youth Scotland supports for both parents and young people navigating questions of sexuality

The Rainbow Project – Promoting the health and wellbeing of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and/or Asexual people and their families in Northern Ireland

Shout 85258 – Talking with your children about sexuality and gender

Stonewall provide a helpful list of LGBT terms 

Young Minds – Gender Identity & Mental Health a Guide for Parents 

The content of this page has been co-produced in partnership with Barnardo's Positive Identities service.

Barnardo's Positive Identities Service logo
Last updated on 14 February 2024