Do Parents Have the Right to Seek Help for Their Children?

Who decides what medical or mental health care is best for your child? Would it surprise you to know that in the mental health arena the ‘age of consent’ is only 13 years of age in Washington?  Like laws surrounding abortion, parents of adolescents are potentially cut out of the decision making and mental health care of their teenage children.

When it comes to mental health treatment for issues of sexual orientation or gender identity, it could be even worse.

Conversion therapy, the use of talk therapy to help children suffering from questions of Sexual Orientation or Gender Dysphoria, was banned in Seattle as of August 2016.

The legislation sponsored by Councilmember M. Lorena González made the practice of conversion therapy on minors by licensed medical or mental-health professionals punishable by fines of up to $1,000. It also prohibits the advertising of conversion therapy.

In 2017, the Washington state senate introduced SB5722, which would extend the ban to minors statewide. When the legislature returns early in 2018, the debate is set to continue.  If such a ban were to pass, parents would not be able to seek mental health treatment for their children who may be struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation issues.

The American Psychological Association (APA) calls transgender, an “umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” The diagnosis often assigned these individuals by the clinical community is Gender Dysphoria. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) contains separate criteria for diagnosing it in adults and adolescents versus children.

While it is typically recognized that adult citizens of the United States have full jurisdiction over their own medical choices, those under 18 are considered under the authority of their parents. A debate, on these terms, surrounding the appropriate treatment for children and adolescents who may be transgender is taking shape all around the world.

The Daily Mail recently profiled parents who felt the state-sponsored, National Health Service (NHS) in England was pressuring their kids to go through with medical procedures to change their sex. The article reports that one mother was shocked to find her child being referred to a specialist transgender clinic, after only a 40-minute evaluation. Some of the parents made claims that their children only began hating the biological sex they were born after cases of extreme bullying by other students and that NHS employees refused to listen to their claims.

The rush to label children transgender comes on the heels of the NHS signing a “memorandum of understanding,” which is nearly identical to implementing a ban on conversion therapy. The memorandum makes it illegal for staff to challenge the person’s gender confusion.

It is pertinent to note that the science on this matter has not been settled yet either. There is much debate in the medical community as to whether transgender is a clinical disorder and furthermore if those who don’t adhere to the gender binary deserve protections similar to that which is guaranteed based upon immutable characteristics like race.

Dr. Quentin Vanmeter, a pediatric endocrinologist from the American College of Pediatricians does not view transgenderism as a civil rights issue. He says that transgenderism is a mental health issue, and there is no scientific evidence that it’s a physiological phenomenon. He believes that treating it as if it’s a natural phenomenon and speaking about it as a civil rights issue is doing a disservice to the children struggling with this type of mental illness.

He’s not alone either, former Chief of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Paul McHugh, also believes that being transgender is a psychological problem, not a biological phenomenon. He thinks that transgender individuals should be referred to mental health counseling, not surgery.  A statewide ban such as Seattle’s on talk-therapy for minors dealing with gender dysphoria would make this impossible.

With a degree of doubt cast on the advocacy of LGBT groups painting transgender as a biological phenomenon and not a psychological problem, parents need to be skeptical of hormone therapies and sex reassignment surgery, which hold the potential to alter a child or adolescent’s  life indefinitely.

Parents should have the right to explore all of the options available for their children and adolescents and make the decision that seems most appropriate to them, not the state.

Genevieve Malandra is a contributing writer to Family Policy Institute of Washington.

8 replies
  1. New Year Images HD
    New Year Images HD says:

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  2. Jill Davidson
    Jill Davidson says:

    “Conversion therapy, the use of talk therapy to help children suffering from questions of Sexual Orientation or Gender Dysphoria”, but what if the children are not “suffering”?

    Sexual orientation itself is not a disorder. In order to be considered a disorder in the DSM-5, the condition must have a clinically significant adverse effect on the person’s social or occupational functioning (in children and youth, that includes school functioning), or to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, one’s ability to love and to work. Sexual orientation can be romantic attraction to women, to men, to all genders, or to none. Are all of those orientations disordered? Are you concerned with the suffering of children and youth, or only with parent wishes that their children be different? Conversion therapy is the attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, and it causes despair. Therapy to assist a person answer their own questions about their sexual orientation or gender identity is not outlawed – trying to directly change a person’s sexual orientation is. There is a profound difference between being a guide and coercing re-education.

    Gender dysphoria is a disorder, and you cleverly conflate gender dysphoria with being transgender. But these are not the same thing. Transgender is identifying as a gender different than one was assigned at birth. A transgender person may or may not be distressed about that. Gender dysphoria is distress about the mismatch between one’s gender identity and how one is forced to express gender. It can vary from mild to severe, but not all transgender people have gender dysphoria. Psychotherapy used to be required, and is now strongly recommended, in the current WPATH Standards of Care. Appropriate psychotherapy for people with gender dysphoria does help them answer questions about gender and finding resources, but does not force any of those choices on the client. Conversion therapy is the attempt to change a person’s gender identity, not assist them in answering their own questions, and it is harmful and ineffective.

  3. Carole Somol
    Carole Somol says:

    Thank you for this website and article on sexual orientation counseling. We come from MA and have long followed MFI in Boston. We are delighted to know WA is also following our state legislation on issues that affect our families and that our families should be making decisions on, not legislators.


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