There’s a reason we are terrified of our kids going to middle school. That’s when it all changes, doesn’t it? Suddenly our babies who were just watching Paw Patrol like five seconds ago are learning things—things that make our ears bleed when we imagine them inside our sweet innocent children’s brains. They’re learning about sex (beyond the “talk” Mom and Dad gave them at nine). They’re tempted to try new things—”cool” things like vaping and drinking and making out on the bridge after school. (Is there a bridge by you? There’s always a bridge or path in the woods or spot under the bleachers where kids make out and do shit they aren’t supposed to, isn’t there?)
We are helpless as we approach this cliff of adolescence. We have to let our kids fall off into the abyss of new knowledge and new temptations and peer pressures that middle school will inevitably throw at our kids.
But today’s kids face far more than classmates egging them on to kiss a boy on a bridge or try a puff of this or a swig of that. Today’s tweens and teens are also navigating social media. And through Twitter, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or whatever else pops up next, they are inundated with information—good and bad—that floods their still developing, still impressionable brains.
And, as one mom recently found out, one of those things is the ugly, racist underbelly of America.
In a now viral Twitter thread, Joanna Schroeder (@iproposethis) provides a much-needed wake-up call to parents—especially parents of white teenage boys.
Do you have white teenage sons?
I've been watching my boys' online behavior & noticed that social media and vloggers are actively laying groundwork in white teens to turn them into alt-right/white supremacists.
— joanna schroeder (@iproposethis) August 13, 2019
Schroeder then goes on to say, “Social media and vloggers are actively laying groundwork in white teens to turn them into alt-right/white supremacists. It’s a system I believe is purposefully created to disillusion white boys away from progressive/liberal perspectives.”
And that should be alarming to all of us.
Just like anyone who preys up young kids too naive to know better, racists and white supremacists, according to Schroeder, are trying to influence our kids early and groom them. Only it’s 2019, so they’re doing it through social media.
“First, the boys are inundated by memes featuring subtly racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes. Being kids, they don’t see the nuance & repeat/share,” Schroeder explains.
Then what do you think happens to the 12-year old who shared or retweeted something he thought was funny and not offensive (because he’s 12 and still learning)? He’ll be attacked, ridiculed, and blasted online as a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, or a bigot. And then he’ll have to choose what to do with that shame and embarrassment—apologize and right his wrong, or listen to the voices saying, “The world is too sensitive!” and “People get offended by everything these days” and “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
If that boy follows route #2, (which many do) and believes the voices telling him that he’s being unfairly punished because “it was just a joke,” he’s already made it through the first phase of training. Now he’ll get angry for being in trouble, and those who spread racist, sexist, and offensive “jokes” are his new online friends. Because they’ve got his back.
And that’s how a new white supremacist is born. That’s how the seeds of anger are planted. Seeds of anger at: “Women, feminists, liberals, people of color, gay folks, etc etc. So-called snowflakes,” Schroeder explains in her Twitter thread. “And nobody is there to dismantle the ‘snowflake’ fallacy. These boys are being set up—they’re placed like baseballs on a tee and hit right out of the park.”
It’s not like it was generations ago, parents. Grooming young minds to believe in bigotry used to take more time. It relied on exposure via newspapers and word of mouth. It took years of brainwashing. Not anymore. The process is quicker now. And easier. All thanks to the internet and social media. And the fact that our kids are accessing all of it at younger and younger ages.
So what can we do? “Stalk their social media,” Schroeder says. Look for red flags—like if your son says the word “triggered” in response to a sensitive topic. Someone has already planted that in his mind—that a topic that’s offensive to some is really “just a joke” in today’s politically correct climate.
Look through his Instagram Explore screen with him. Explain what's underlying those memes. Explain why "triggered" isn't a joke, what a PTSD trigger is actually like. Evoke empathy without shaming him.
Remind him you know he's a good person, but explain how propaganda works.
— joanna schroeder (@iproposethis) August 13, 2019
Schroeder also implores us, as parents, to take several more necessary steps. We need to explain how propaganda works—by making “extreme points of view seem normal by small amounts of exposure over time—all for the purpose of converting people to more extremist points of view.”
We need to ensure our kids know that they are being used as pawns, and that it’s up to them whether they’ll be played the fool or not.
And we need to change the narrative on that whole “snowflake” thing. Is a “snowflake” someone who “gets offended by racism/sexism and actively wants to help end bigotry?” Well, then it’s time to teach to our kids to be proud snowflakes, isn’t it?
She adds that we should also talk to our kids about comedy, since the continuous argument we hear is “You can’t make jokes anymore!” because “Everyone’s always offended!” Schroeder says we need to “show them that progressive comedy isn’t about being ‘politically correct’ or safe. It’s often about exposing oppressive systems—which is the furthest thing from ‘safe’ or delicate as you can get.” She suggests exposing our kids to the witty and poignant humor of comedians like John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert and talk about what they’re trying to achieve with their jokes.
This is scary shit, folks. Our kids are seeing these messages at younger ages than ever before—well before they’ve had time in their lives to truly figure out what bigotry really is. And if we don’t intervene, they’ll be influenced by the wrong ideologies and could possibly share such tweets and posts themselves without knowing that once they hit “like” or “share,” the damage is done.
It’s a whole new world for 21st century parents and their kids—for better or worse. We can’t simply ignore the social media world our kids are exposed to. It’s our job to protect our kids from the ugliness that’s out there, and to ensure that they don’t become part of the ugliness themselves.