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Sinister Illusions

Even the mildly curious teen—with a few swipes of her thumb—can track down seemingly ecstatic trans celebrities on YouTube.
Christiana Kiefer
Even the mildly curious teen—with a few swipes of her thumb—can track down seemingly ecstatic trans celebrities on YouTube.

“There is no such thing as social media, there is only unsocial media.” That’s a somewhat cynical quote from a neuroscientist and best-selling author. But even for those of us who use social media deliberately, the quip rings truer than we care to admit. Even in their most useful forms, social media platforms invite us to edit and filter our lives—to present a version of ourselves most likely to attract likes, retweets, and comments. But the tools, themselves, are shaping us. And it’s having a devastating effect on today’s girls.

Recently, mainstream media in the U.S. have been reporting that rates of mental health issues have been skyrocketing. The rate of reported mental health problems among American teens has risen significantly over the past decade, and studies link teen social media use to higher levels of anxiety and depression, negative body image, and peer pressure. A few years back, internal documents leaked from Facebook revealed that the social media giant (now Meta) is aware that Instagram “make[s] body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” Policy experts offer compelling reasons why it was a mistake to let kids onto social media sites.

Perhaps the most sinister effect facing adolescents—especially girls—is that social media fosters the illusion that we can create our own reality. In her groundbreaking 2020 book Irreversible Damage, Abigail Shrier explored the sudden spike in the trans-identification of teenage girls. In a video on the same topic, Shrier pointed to research concluding that peer influence and social media influence had a lot to do with this trans teen phenomenon.

Even the mildly curious teen—with a few swipes of her thumb—can track down seemingly ecstatic trans celebrities on YouTube, join Planned Parenthood’s chat space on Instagram, or stumble into the graphic, flippant TikTok videos of a cosmetic surgeon bragging about removing the healthy breasts of dozens of unnamed girls. At every turn, adults are prepared to celebrate, amplify, and exploit the confusion and discontentment facing our youth—particularly young women.

For many, it begins as a flirtation with the alluring notion of escaping the inconveniences of womanhood. Other girls grow weary of failing to measure up against carefully curated, hypersexualized ideals of the “perfect” woman: They want out of the race. For still others, it’s a way to fit in with their peer group. As Shrier notes in her book, coming out as “transgender” immediately boosts a girl’s social status.

The path can quickly become an alarming one. Life-altering interventions like mastectomies, puberty blockers, and testosterone often cause permanent infertility, loss of sexual function, deteriorating bone density, and a myriad of other serious side effects—largely unmentioned by the medical community.

It’s natural to want to alleviate human suffering. And a child’s or adolescent’s grief, depression, and desire to escape her body poses a heavy and complex burden for any parent, youth group leader, mentor, or friend.

But fighting to reverse God-given femaleness or maleness isn’t loving—nor is there evidence that it alleviates mental health struggles. As neuroscientist and sex researcher Dr. James Cantor notes, there is no evidence that “affirming” the transgender identity of a child or adolescent leads to better mental health outcomes. In fact, the last four decades of research have shown that the majority of prepubescent children who feel they are in the “wrong body” desist over the course of puberty—without medical intervention.

So, what’s a Christian parent, pastor, teacher, or friend to do? We’re called to exercise the love of Christ, and that’s a love that won’t endorse or encourage the falsehoods of transgender ideology. But it’s a love that grieves with children experiencing dysphoria and helps them endure and hope in a good God who created them in their bodies while offering a relationship beyond physical, biological reality. It’s a love that’s creative and wise—one that risks difficult conversations, enforces social media limitations, and models integrity by practicing restraint with our own digital temptations.

It’s a love that works to restore face-to-face relationships in a world gone digital.

Christiana Holcomb
Christiana Kiefer
Senior Counsel
Christiana (Holcomb) Kiefer serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Conscience Initiatives.