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As a clinical psychologist who works with kids and teens, I’ve seen the landscape of their lives change in a rainbow of ways. These changes provide opportunities for growth and connection with self and others but can also lead them into unhealthy relationships in online and offline communities. For parents to educate and connect (rather than disconnect) with their kids over these issues, we need to know the basics. Today’s GKIS articles allows us to take a look into what sociologists predict to be a “genderless future,” where we will no longer be defining ourselves as “female” or “male.”[9] Newly created identifiers and the generic “they” will replace pronouns “she” and “he.”[9] And major businesses like Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Disney will remove gender from the labels of their products.[12]

Gender Fluidity

Welcome to 2019, where millennials and generation Zers have created “Gender Fluidity.”[3] Being “gender fluid” means that the individual exists on a spectrum between male and female and may shift gender several times a day or throughout their lives with different intensities.[8] A millennial poll of 1,000 people revealed that half believe that gender exists on a fluid spectrum or “outside conventional categories.”[14]

Celebrities like Will Smith’s son Jaden Smith, rapper Young Thug, actress Ruby Rose, and superstar Miley Cyrus have identified themselves as gender fluid.[10] Young Thug and Jaden Smith are known for pushing the boundaries of fashion with crop tops and skirts.[10] Ruby Rose varies in masculinity in photoshoots and TV shows like “Orange Is The New Black.”[10] Miley Cyrus has explained her gender fluidity during interviews, “It’s weird that I’m a girl, because I just don’t feel like a girl, and I don’t feel like a boy.”[4]

The Break Down

Gender and sexuality concepts are difficult to understand. They seem muddled in some way or another. Here’s some clarification:

  • Gender is biological sex and its cultural associations: male, female, transgender.[1]
  • Gender Identity is what someone perceives their gender to be: biologically a female but identifies as male.[1]
  • Gender Expression is how someone shows their gender whether it be through clothing choices, hair style, makeup, and the like.[1]
  • Sexual Orientation explains what gender someone is attracted to and would like to have sexual relations with (differs from gender identity).[1]
  • Romantic Orientation explains what gender someone would like to be emotionally and romantically involved with (differs from sexual orientation sometimes).[11]

Gender Stereotypes

With the traditional labels of gender came their stereotypes, with females being sexual objects and males being macho knuckleheads.[5] These stereotypes link to online gender specific characteristics. Women tend to fulfill their sexual stereotype by posting provocative photos. In captions and comments their words are more positive, supportive, emotional, and personal.[5] Men express their masculinity online by posting content related to violence, sex, and alcohol. Their online engagement is more aggressive, negative, and authoritative.[5]

Gender Expression Online

Modern society advocates for the freedom to be yourself no matter what gender you are or what the color of your skin is. Millennials and generation Zers have countered stigmatic barriers (such as stereotypes) that prevent the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or question, intersex, or allied) community from thriving.[13]

The internet has granted many a voice to speak their truths as well as a receptive audience who’ll listen. That power is a great confidence booster for those who feel powerless against parent authority and social judgement.

It also makes the gender journey feel less lonely for kids and teens. Social media provides a private place to relate with others, vent about being misunderstood, and express themselves unapologetically. On their own terms, they can gradually reveal discovered parts of themselves.

For example, some may feel comfortable cross dressing online but not walking out the door that way.[7] This is because coming out to strangers online is more manageable than coming out at school or home.[6] According to the LGBT Helpline, more people feel hopeful and positive about coming out online, because they know they’ll get plenty of positive support.[6]

Being Anonymous

Another great benefit of online gender expression is the freedom that anonymity provides. Kids and teens are allowed to explore their identity on their own terms. The ability to stay anonymous gives them control over who they come out to. You can choose to use an actual picture of yourself or an avatar, virtually anything to be your default picture. Usernames have the same range in reality or fantasy. Social media allows you to pick and choose who has access to your content. A powerful tool is the ability to block specific users from having access entirely. These tools allow teens to choose whether they want to interact with specific people in their inner circle or complete strangers. It also reduces the chances of cyber bullying.

The combination of anonymity and a knowledgeable online community creates an accepting venue. There’s less chance for criticism invalidating a teen’s gender identity.[7] When coming out online to strangers, a user’s gender and sexual orientation isn’t judged by their past.[7] Peers tend to think they know where someone is on the spectrum. This is because they refer to stereotypes. They judge this based on someone’s dating and sexual history. What they know about the person’s interests and hobbies, again, gender is fluid. It’s a personal journey that one can only define for themselves.

Online Safety

As explained before on GetKidsInternetSafe, “gender-awareness is one aspect, but sexual awareness is another.”[2] Unfiltered chat rooms for things like webcomics, fandoms, and role-playing games expose children to age inappropriate themes of sex and violence.[2] Predators have the opportunity to manipulate naive and vulnerable kids and teens with explicit content or groom them for exploitive relationships.[2]

If you worry that your kids aren’t quite ready to delve deep into online communities that may put them at risk, you’ll want to check out our GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit. With our family-tested, outcome-based recommendations, you can build your customized digital toolbox for each device your child uses. That translates to filtering and blocking age-inappropriate content and offer parental management tools like location tracking and monitoring. Why wouldn’t you use the free and/or subscription parental controls available to you to help? You don’t even have to waste time and energy figuring out which will fit for you. We did the research for you!

In addition to GKIS products like our free Connected Family Agreement, Screen Safety Toolkit, and Connected Family Online Course, websites like 7 cups can detour dangerous influence. 7 cups offers free 24/7 support chat rooms by volunteers trained to deal with adolescent issues like “depression, anxiety, relationships, LGBTQ+ and more.”[15] Teens can anonymously join monitored chat rooms to relate with others in the community.[15] The website is a great stepping stone for teens who feel like their parents don’t understand. If all of this is overwhelming already, book a coaching session with Dr. B so she can guide you through it. It really is as easy as that.

What else can you do?

  • Reflect on your ideas and beliefs about gender. It’s important to understand how you truly feel about these issues. Identify what makes you feel or think this way. Is it healthy and supportive for a child emotionally, mentally, and physically struggling to find themselves?[2]
  • Educate Start the dialogue about sexual education as early as you can. Answer the questions that are commonly answered with, “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” Be the person they turn to when they have questions. Keep an open dialogue. This helps deter any negative influence age inappropriate content may provide.[2]

Still wondering how to start “the talk”? Lucky for you, Dr. Bennett makes the awkward conversation easier with these tips:

Thank you to our GKIS intern Hanna Dangiapo for untangling the ever-evolving definition of gender. Have you had experiences with gender fluidity in your house or community? Let us know what you think about it in the comments below.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1]“Gender Identity & Expression.” Smart Sex Resource, 2016.

[2]Bennet, Tracy. “A Genderqueer Polyromantic Bisexual Teen Formerly Known as Miley Cyrus Walked Into My Office.” GetKidsInternetSafe, 5 February 2015.         

[3]Cieslik, Anna. “The future is fluid: Generation Z’s approach to gender and sexuality is indeed revolutionary.” The Daily Dot, 18 October 2017.

[4]Damshena, Sam. “Miley Cyrus opens up about identifying as ‘gender neutral’”. Gaytimes, 10 December 2018.

[5]Herring, Susan & Kapidzic, Sanja. “Teens, Gender, and Self-Presentation in Social Media.” Indiana University, 2015.

[6]Magliocco, Sarah. “Social media has a positive impact on LGBT people hoping to come out.” SheMazing, 2017.

[7]Maidment, Adam. “How Social Media Is Aiding In The Expression Of Gender Identity.” Elite Daily, 5 August 2015.

[8]Marsh, Sarah. “The gender-fluid generation: young people on being male, female or non-binary.” The Guardian, 23 March 2016.

[9]Raskoff, Sally. “The Future of Gender?”. Everyday Sociology Blog, 4 June 2018.

[10]Ritchie, Tabitha. “Music and Gender Fluidity: The Millenials.” Music: Beyond the Binary, 2019.

[11]SexEdPlusDan. “What The Love Is A Romantic Orientation?” Medium, 12 November 2018.

[12]Tabuchi, Hiroko. “Sweeping Away Gender-Specific Toys and Labels.” The New York Times, 27 October 2015.

[13]Tressoldi, Nicole. “Teens and Gender on Social Media Sites: Evaluating Online Behavior.” Decoded = Science, 6 May 2014.

[14]Wong, Curtis M. “50 Percent Of Millennials Believe Gender Is A Spectrum, Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll Finds.” Huffpost, 5 February 2015.

[15]7 Cups: Online Therapy & Free Counseling, Someone to Talk to

Photo Credits

Photo byTim Mossholder on Unsplash

Photo byNeONBRAND on Unsplash

Photo byJason Leung on Unsplash

Photo byFilip Mroz on Unsplash

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Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett