The Influence of Social Media for Trans Youth

Social media is an evolving form of communication that is now easily accessible to and incredibly influential of teens today. In fact, seven in ten teens across the country say they use Instagram, with a similar number using Snapchat. [1]

With social media use almost universal among many teens, I often am asked whether this exposure is helpful or harmful to youth.

The truth is: It depends.

Teens often credit social media platforms to adding positivity to their lives – including feeling more connected with friends, exposing them to diversity, and receiving social support. [2] The Internet can be an especially important place for youth who may have restricted opportunities to form social connections in-person. This includes transgender and other gender diverse youth, who often face social stigma and discrimination in in-person spaces. According to the CDC, about 2% of high school students identify as trans [3]. Trans students are more likely than cisgender (people who identify with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth) students to report experiences of violence. [3] And a study by GLSEN showed that 75% of trans youth feel unsafe at school. [4] As such, finding other avenues of social support to offset the negativity that trans youth experience in person could well include social media and other online places.

On the other hand, just as they are expressed in person, bullying and other forms of peer aggression are expressed online. It is possible that trans youth are more likely to be targeted online than other youth, in a similar way to in-person experiences.

To better understand the potential pros and cons of the online world for trans youth, we did some searching of the literature, and here’s what we found:

1) Improved Social Support
Social media is indeed being used in a meaningful way for trans teens to connect, build relationships, and to support and be supported by others like them. Trans youth often feel that belonging to an online social group, like a Facebook group, has helped them because they are able to see trans people out and visible to others and this makes them feel less alone. These groups provide an opportunity to hear affirming stories from other trans people, including how they developed healthy personal narratives. Importantly too, they are able to access this social support online as they come out. [5]

2) Aggressions and Cyberbullying
Unfortunately, similar to in-person interactions with others, trans teens say they are being targeted by intolerance and transphobia on social media platforms. Cyberbullying is a large issue [2,5] – 28% of trans youth have reported being bullied online in the past year. [6]

3) Access to Resources
Social media can be used as a tool to easily find resources and helpful health information which supports trans youth to better understand and feel affirmed in their identity. With information about trans individuals’ experiences so readily available on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook groups, etc., it has become a way for trans youth to find information relevant to their own lived experiences. These social communities are often used to gain insight about topics specific to their lives and health that may not be easily accessible otherwise. Topics of interest include how to find gender-affirming clothing and where to locate healthcare providers who are accepting of gender diverse youth and aware of their healthcare needs. [5, 7]

All in all, it is clear that social media can add positivity to the lives of trans teens, but also has some aspects that can negatively affect their experience online. Understanding the benefits and risks of using social media will help teens, as well as their parents and other adults working with trans teens, support them as they make decisions about how they want to navigate social media.


[1] Anderson, M. and Jiang, J. (2019). Teens’ Social Media Habits and Experiences. [online] Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Available at:

[2] Curtis, M. and Ryder, D. (2019). LGBT+ Teens, Social Media Use & Depressive Symptoms. Thinking Matters Symposium. [online] Available at:

[3] CDC. (2019). Transgender Identity and Experiences of Violence Victimization, Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students — 19 States and Large Urban School Districts, 2017 [online] Available at:

[4] National Center for Transgender Equality. (2019). Issues: Youth and Students. [online] Available at:

[5] Doss, B. (2018). Exploring the Role of Social Media in the Identity Development of Trans Individuals. MSU Graduate Theses. [online] Available at:

[6] Reisner SL, Greytak EA, Parsons JT, and Ybarra M. (2016). Gender Minority Social Stress in Adolescence: Disparities in Adolescent Bullying and Substance Use by Gender Identity. J Sex Res. 2015; 52(3): 243–256.

[7] Cannon, Y., Speedlin, S., Avera, J., Robertson, D., Ingram, M. and Prado, A. (2017). Transition, Connection, Disconnection, and Social Media: Examining the Digital Lived Experiences of Transgender Individuals. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 11(2), pp.68-87.