The trans teen trend: healthy or harmful?

by Laurel Pretorius
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Trans teens are trending and parents need to pay attention, writes Laurel Pretorius.

When I was an adolescent during the 80s, the gender thing was simple, if you were born with a penis, you were a boy and if you were born with a vagina, you were a girl. If you were a girl with boyish tendencies, you were called a tomboy. If you were a femme boy, you were sadly teased. That was life!

Gender dysphoria was a little-known word and only a tiny percentage of the population identified as transgender. The closest we ever got to discussing “trans anything” was when The Rocky Horror Picture Show featured that “sweet transvestite” and sometime later when Priscilla Queen of The Desert made drag queens real to the masses.

We were more concerned about gay rights and if anything, the only radical discussions we had around gender back in the day was whether we were attracted to the same or opposite sex—and there was even a stigma about coming out of the closet.

Jump to the 2020s and our children seem to have been influenced (read brainwashed) by a radical gender ideology which is convincing them (girls especially) that transgender is everything.

Enter the Cass report

To understand how big a trend it has become, in 2009, the NHS’s gender identity development service (Gids), in the UK, saw fewer than 50 children, annually. By 2021-2022, demand skyrocketed, with over 5000 youngsters seeking help – a hundredfold increase. Notably, the most significant surge was among birth-registered females.

Dr. Hilary Cass, a respected UK-based paediatrician, conducted a review in 2020 prompted by concerns in the surge of patients being referred by Gids to the NHS for questioning their gender. Cass’s groundbreaking review, commissioned by NHS England, highlights the contentious nature of the gender identity debate. Health professionals feel hesitant to openly discuss their views due to its perceived toxicity.

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So, what’s it all about?

In her report Cass states there are a number of factors that may explain the extremely concerning increase in girls wanting to identify as boys in their early adolescent years. They are:

  1. The influence of social media

The report notes that Generation Z (born about 1995-2010) and Generation Alpha, born since 2010, face digital benefits and risks. The internet offers learning opportunities but exposes young minds to harmful ideologies. Girls, especially, spend significant time on social media, linked to body image concerns and mental distress. Increased online activity intensifies these effects, highlighting the importance of moderation and awareness.

  1. The influence of peers & socio-cultural beliefs

Studies show that girls experience increased peer pressure and are more susceptible to negative body image during adolescence. The Cass report emphasises the impact of online information on gender expression and dysmorphia, with gender-questioning youth relying heavily on social media influencers for guidance, which is risky. Social media holds more sway than traditional news in shaping beliefs.

  1. The danger of influencers

Cass’s review found gender-questioning children being told by social media influencers to hide things from parents. The fear is that influencers may provide biased information to young, easily influenced minds. Some even suggest distancing from parents, despite evidence emphasising that family support is best for their wellbeing. Cass is concerned about the harmful influence in such cases.

  1. Adolescent mental health

The Cass report links the surge in gender dysphoria cases among youth to a wider escalation in mental health challenges. UK surveys spanning from 1999 to 2017 reveal a notable rise in anxiety and depression, particularly among teenage girls. This review accentuates a corresponding trend in heightened anxiety, depression, and self-harm among young women aged 16 to 24, mirroring the uptick in gender clinic presentations. It reveals the troubling correlation between diminishing mental well-being and the increase in gender dysphoria cases.

  1. Changing concepts around gender and sexuality

The report notes the evolving and complex nature of sexuality and gender identity in adolescence, which shapes the way they identify. It cites a study revealing diverse sexual orientations among clinic patients, diverging from traditional gender norms and Cass is calling for deeper exploration of the link between sexual orientation and gender identity. The report says that parents have often noted that their children identifying as transgender, have later moved onto being cisgender but are attracted to the same sex.

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So, does this have relevance in South Africa?

The BELA (Basic Education Laws Amendment) Bill proposes introducing gender ideology into South African primary schools, to children as young as 7. In my opinion, such early exposure to complex gender concepts raises alarm bells for me.

I feel it has no place in a young child’s life. At the end of the day, it feels a lot like propaganda and once the Bill is accepted into law, parents may have very little sway over their children’s gender and sexual choices.

Nyeleti Ndlovu, a social worker from Family Life Centre (www.familylife.co.za), says she has been dealing with a substantial increase in teenagers wanting to change their gender identity. “It is something that is trending and teenagers are easily influenced as they are at the stage in their lives where they are seeking their own identity and establishing their own value system,” she says. Ndlovu also notes a particular increase in biological girls transitioning to boys.

As adolescents explore their identity, they may become obsessed with the use of pronouns and terms related to gender identity, such as “puberty blockers”, “top and bottom surgery”, and “breast binding”.

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Parents are advised to stay informed during this period of self-discovery. Here’s what to do:

  • Remain calm and take a neutral stance.
  • Listen to what your teen has to say and give them a balanced view of the trans agenda.
  • Keep an open dialogue going.
  • Do the research on puberty blockers – there is already evidence stacking up of the damage it does to young bodies and much of the effects of these medications are irreversible and have extreme side effects.
  • If your child is talking about something as radical as surgery, remember it is irreversible and counselling should always be the step your child takes before removing a body part. “I recommend that you be very cautious in taking major medical steps, as your teenager is still in the exploration phase,” says Ndlovu.
  • Be their voice of reason and limit their exposure to social media as much as you possibly can.
  • Be open-minded but also establish healthy boundaries with your teen – remember, you are the parent, and therefore your rules apply.
  • If you think your child may genuinely be transgender, seek guidance from an objective professional who is knowledgeable about gender ideology as it stands today. There are also support groups for parents.

In conclusion, Ndlovu suggests that “many children go through a phase of gender exploration in the way that they dress, the toys they choose to play with and imaginative role-playing games.”

It is normal and healthy for our teens to explore life on their own terms. It’s an important step to growing up. Allow them the freedom to find themselves but be aware of trends that may cause harm. Unless your teen feels very strongly about being transgender and it has been noticeable in them from a very young age, I believe the teen trans trend too shall pass.  

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