Kids say the darndest things — and ask the most honest questions.

Liv Hnilicka, a waitress who lives in Minneapolis, experienced this firsthand earlier this week during a shift at the restaurant where she works.


Photo courtesy of Liv Hnilicka/Facebook. Used with permission.

Hnilicka, who is transgender, was approached by a man in the restaurant whose young daughter had asked about Hnilicka's gender identity.

The man didn't want to answer for Hnilicka, so he asked Hnilicka instead. Admittedly, she wasn't exactly sure how the conversation would unfold.

"I think I thought, 'I'm so impressed that someone actually asked me how I identify in this straight space,'" she told Upworthy. "This could go really poorly or really great."

And fortunately, we can report, it was the latter.

Hnilicka wrote about the experience on her Facebook page:

"Stellar parenting moment of the day:

This afternoon I was at my waitressing job on a beautiful early fall afternoon. Two parents and their young daughter came in; the tall burly dad adorably scratching his back on the door as they walked in. As I was filling the water station, he came up to me and said, 'My daughter just asked if you were a boy or a girl. I didn't want to speak for you so would you like to talk to her?' I nervously said yes and walked to their table. 'Hi, I like your hair ribbon,' I said. 'I heard you asked if I was a boy or girl. I think the important thing to remember is that everyone can be anything they want to be in this world. And it's also important to try to be the best selves we can be for our family and friends. And even to strangers. So to answer your question, I was told that I was a boy when I was little and now I live my adult life as a girl. It sounds complicated but it's actually pretty simple. Do you have any questions for me?' She looked at me smiling and simply said, 'Nope!'

I walked away from the table feeling really good about parents intentionally engaging their children about possibly difficult topics. And showing that giving people the power to voice their truths in this complicated world is beautiful and healing.

Way to go, mom and dads out there making space for transfolks/gnc people like me.
(Also I made this post public in case you want to share it with parents you may know.)"





Since it was posted on Sept. 20, 2015, the post has garnered more than 10,000 Likes and nearly 2,000 shares.

The response has been "overwhelmingly positive," Hnilicka told Upworthy.

And one glance at the post's comment section makes that very clear:

While Hnilicka's experience has "brought [her] such joy," there have, of course, been a few transphobic comments in the mix. But Hnilicka was quick to dismiss the haters.

"To me, [a negative comment] speaks to the idea that a lot of people hold disbelief that trans/[gender non-conforming]/intersex people exist at all," she explained of some of the negative comments she's read, most of which were people apparently angered about her pushing some sort of agenda. "But we do. We exist. We are not going anywhere."

Hnilicka's experience may be a seemingly small one. But she hopes it challenges our views of trans people.

Because our collective view of trans people as a society still needs a lot of work.

"I hope that people take away a sense of investment in trans/[gender non-conforming]/intersex people's rights and existence," she said, noting the several hurdles her community faces, like a lack of accessible health care, housing discrimination, and violence. "As allies, we need you to fight for us in solidarity."

And that starts with knowing how to be respectful — especially when it comes to acknowledging someone's gender identity. Although Hnilicka's customer went with a more assertive approach, she recommends people stick to saying something along the lines of asking, “I use she/her pronouns — what pronouns do you use?" instead of just interrogating a stranger about how they identify.

If Hnilicka's story teaches us anything, it's that understanding goes a long way.

Transgender people are our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, our friends, and depending on who's reading this, ourselves. The lives and stories of trans people are just as valuable as anyone else's. If a curious little girl in Minnesota sparked this amount of good with a simple question, imagine what would happen if we all took a moment to understand others who are different from ourselves?

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Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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