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If children are taught how to think, not what to think, there’s no ideology or dogmatic force that need be feared. Kids must learn to discern fact from fiction, to form opinions based on given data, to understand what data is relevant and what isn’t, and to weigh judgments against a set of moral guidelines. Parenting is not about making sure kids have all the right information, it’s about giving them the tools to access it, and the awareness to know what to do with it.
This concept was missed by writer Joanna Schroeder, who writes on parenting for Disney’s site Babble. In an epic Twitter thread, she asked “Do you have white teenage sons? Listen up.” And proceeded to rant about the problem with what white, teen boys like on the internet. It turns out that she has white, teen boys, and she’s been concerned about their online interests. She thinks the internet is trying to turn her boys into white supremacists.
Couple things: if you’re a writer, and you have kids, you should stop writing about them publicly in a non-fiction setting after they are six or so years old. Online lives live forever, and these kids are going to have a future in which their mother publicly told the world, to near 100K likes and 50K retweets (at time of writing), that she’s worried her kids don’t have enough discernment to not become white supremacists just because they’re exposed to some shady online content.
Next up, what Schroeder doesn’t realize in her quest to have her sons inundated with progressive/liberal perspectives, is that this ideology is the mainstream view. Teens aren’t looking for what culture and mainstream media wants to give them, they want what they can take. For better or worse, these days, conservatism is the counterculture. All those divisive podcasters and YouTubers, bitching about the state of illiberal liberalism that has taken over discourse, are the opposing team. Prevailing opinions about toxic masculinity, the danger of whiteness, and the slur that is ‘white cis het male’ are hard to listen to when that is exactly the thing that you are. It’s hard for me to listen to, and I’m not even that thing.
Schroeder isn’t the only progressive, left-leaning mom who is worried about what her sons are looking at online. I’ve heard from friends of teen boys that they don’t like the content their sons consume. But here’s the deal: that’s totes normal. Going all the way back to the 20th century, rock music, punk rock, even the early folk movement, did not have parents for fans. Parents never like the media their kids are into. That’s half the reason kids like it. Kids dress up and act out in ways they want their parents to disapprove of.
One time I was riding to school with my dad, and he let me play my music—a rare treat—so I popped in a cassette of the Beastie Boys License to Ill. It started with “Paul Revere,” first track on the second side. It goes: “The sheriff’s after me for what I did to his daughter / I did it like this, I did it like that / I did it with a wiffle ball bat.” My dad ejected the tape and chucked it from the window of the moving car. The next time it was my turn to play music, I stuck with R.E.M., because I’m no fool. I don’t blame him for chucking the tape, that’s his prerogative, it was his car, but that week I saved up my lunch money and the weekend saw me at the mall’s Sam Goody getting myself another copy.
It’s not a parent’s job to correct their kids’ taste, even if it’s bad taste. It’s a parent’s job to give their kids the tools of discernment, a household where rules and guidelines of conduct are clear, unconditional love, and the freedom to make their own choices. Schroeder goes on to tweet what comedians parents should ask their kids to watch and what lessons the kids should glean from those woke jokesters.
She notes “Here’s an early red flag: if your kid says ‘triggered’ as a joke referring to people being sensitive, he’s already being exposed & on his way. Intervene!” But like, it’s funny. Trigger warnings have been reported to be not effective by The New York Times, and the concept that a person doesn’t have a thick enough skin or sense of self to bear up when exposed to insensitive jokes is, well, silly. Lots of things are offensive if you decide they are. The kids who are accessing this countercultural content do it for the same reason the punks put safety pins through their cheeks: to be provocative.
All these Alex P. Keaton’s running around, flipping off their progressive parents with PewDiePie or whatever else, are not inundating themselves with what will become their permanent political perspective. Teens just aren’t doing that. They are trying out identities, and in the era of identity politics, one must. There’s no reason to believe that every white, teen boy is going to find his hate in the endless magazine of an AK-47. Most don’t, by a huge margin. Schroeder and other progressive moms and dad who are freaked out by the content their kids are consuming would do well to remember their own teen years, and realize that the danger is in stifling a kid’s outlet, in trying to force a kid into your way of thinking, instead of allowing for healthy self-expression, and providing the boundaries and love that are the backbone of a healthy child.