“I remember the first time I shaved my legs, I didn’t even tell my mom,” says Bortner. “I thought, ‘Mom, look what I’ve done.’ She said, ‘Oh, I hope you got it right.'”
Bortner, now an intern at Oomla, said she doesn’t follow specific channels. And she realized that sometimes the information she found wasn’t genuine — like that one time she came across a couple of beauty YouTubers who offered some sketchy advice.
“I remember watching a video called ‘What to do to relieve period pain,'” says Bortner. “They said to take a laptop when it’s very hot and put it on the area … All the comments were like, ‘Why are you telling people to do that?'”
Though Bortner was smart enough to spot bad advice when she saw it, others might not. Puberty starts earlier and lasts longer, starting as early as eight or nine years of age. So young children are likely to scan the same subjects that used to be considered teen subjects.
Of course, parents worry about what their children will find.
“There’s a gigantic, not unjustified, fear that if kids start looking for information, they’ll end up on porn sites,” says Natterson. “Many do, so it’s not an unreasonable concern. So how do you navigate this?”
Natterson explains that it starts with being the trusted adult who can help verify information — and again, keep the conversation open.
dr Meredithe McNamara agrees. As an assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine specializing in adolescent medicine, McNamara suggests adults watch content starring teenagers.
“I would encourage parents, guardians, and family members and caregivers to ask this young person what they found and read,” says McNamara. “I don’t believe in unrestricted access to social media. I think it has to be a constant open conversation. I think the approach to this is that the adult is humble and ‘What can I learn from my young person who is going through this phase?’ is huge.”
McNamara said some of her patients turn to YouTubers who are really good at explaining concepts and others whose content is slightly different or potentially inaccurate. Even when correcting misinformation, McNamara always thanks her patients for showing her the material and tells them that she learned something that will help her understand them better.
“It really puts the young person in control of what matters most to them, which is their body and their life,” she said.
Resources for trans and non-binary children
McNamara, along with six other medical and legal experts, co-authored a report in May that criticized the scientific claims used to justify the criminalization of medical treatment for transgender youth in Texas and Alabama. She also co-authored a number of commentaries on the subject.
Though the internet can be harsh, especially for marginalized groups, McNamara said she’s found positives for the gendered community.
“There’s so much interesting data showing that social media networks are very protective and supportive of gender biased youth, that they find each other and develop really supportive and constructive friendships, that they reach out to each other when they might not be in supporting homes,” says McNamara.