“I remember the first time I ever shaved my legs, I didn’t even tell my mom,” Bortner says. “I was like, ‘Mom, look what I did.’ She was like, ‘Oh, I hope you did it the right way.’”
Bortner, now an intern at Oomla, said she didn’t follow any specific channels. And she recognized that sometimes the information she found wasn’t legit—like the time she came across a couple of beauty YouTubers offering some sketchy advice.
“I remember I watched a video titled something like, ‘What to do to alleviate pain on your period,” Bortner says. “They said to take a laptop when it’s really hot and place it on the area … All of the comments were like, ‘Why are you telling people to do this??’”
Although Bortner was savvy enough to recognize bad advice when she saw it, others might not be. Puberty is starting earlier and lasting longer, beginning as early as eight or nine years old. So young kids are likely scanning the same topics that were once considered teen subjects.
Naturally, parents worry about what their kids will find.
“There’s a gigantic fear, not unwarranted, that kids will wind up on porn sites when they start doing searches for information,” Natterson says. “Many do, so it’s not an unreasonable concern. So how do you navigate that?”
Natterson explains that it begins with being the trusted adult who can help vet information—and again, keeping the conversation open.
Dr. Meredithe McNamara agrees. An assistant professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine who specializes in adolescent medicine, McNamara suggests adults watch content with teens.
“I would recommend that parents, guardians, and loved ones and providers ask this young person what they have found and what they have read,” McNamara says. “I do not believe in unfettered access to social media. I believe it has to be a continually open conversation. I think the approach to this is with the adult being kind of humble, and ‘What can I learn from my young person who’s going through this stage?’ is huge.”
McNamara said some of her patients pull up YouTubers who explain concepts really well, and others whose content is a little different or potentially inaccurate. Even when correcting misinformation, McNamara always makes sure to thank her patients for showing her the material and tells them she’s learned something that helps her understand them better.
“It really puts the young person in control of what’s most important to them, which is their body and their life,” she said.
Resources for Trans and Nonbinary Kids
McNamara was a coauthor, along with six other medical and legal experts, of a report in May that criticized the scientific claims used as justification to criminalize medical treatment for transgender youth in Texas and Alabama. She has also coauthored a number of op-eds on the matter.
Although the internet can be harsh, especially for marginalized groups, McNamara said she’s found positives for the gender-diverse community.
“There’s so much interesting data that shows that social media networks are very protective of and supportive for gender-diverse youth, that they find one another and that they develop really supportive and constructive friendships, that they reach out to each other when they might not be reared in supportive homes,” McNamara says.