“Cancel Culture” is becoming more prevalent, and not just impacting the lives of public figures. It’s making its way into the lives of young kids and teens across the country, and in some cases turning into cyberbullying. But if it’s so popular — and potentially risky to get caught on the “wrong side” of this social media trend — then how can you help kids, teens, and even adults navigate cancel culture in 2021?
Here’s what you need to know.
Who Is “Canceling” and Why?
Often those engaging in cancel culture consider it an altruistic behavior — a means to unite people over social media to create positive social change. First, a person is called out on their behavior, then a boycott of their business or brand “cancels” them.
This can be an effective way to gather support, such as when people united behind the #metoo movement. That hashtag helped millions of people on social media to feel less isolated, and eventually brought on the call for social change around sexual harassment and abuse. However, when cancel culture is used against someone simply because a vocal person like someone else’s behavior or perceived beliefs, that’s when it can transform into cyberbullying.
Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center tells Parentology that it’s important for parents to talk with their kids about the nuances that exist among people, especially teens, who are still growing and developing. “This individualism in social media that allows everyone to speak up has made some people feel very entitled to have their specific issue addressed, but not [necessarily] create social change writ large,” she says.
Taking one comment or action, especially out of context, can lead to misunderstanding, isolation, or harsh judgments. Rutledge urges parents to help their kids think about both the motivation behind calling someone out or “canceling” them, and what they hope to achieve by doing so. She tells parents to ask kids:
- When is it calling someone out and when is it a negative?
- How do you call out someone to make it a positive?
- How do you call out someone to make it a negative?
If a child is truly upset by one of their friend’s behaviors or comments, there is nothing wrong with bringing it to their attention. But canceling them — essentially shutting the door on them and ending the conversation, or getting others to gang up on them for their behavior — doesn’t help the situation or create positive.
Rutledge suggests having a private conversation and not in a public space like social media.
Should Kids Be Afraid to Share Their Views?
Kids should not silence their views or beliefs, but they should be conscious of how and where they’re sharing them. According to Rutledge, sharing thoughts and ideas with your close group of friends in person, is healthy and normal. It’s also normal that opinions and feelings change as kids grow and develop.
“You don’t want to negate their voice. You want to empower them to be able to have confidence in their opinion, but you also want them to make some kind of judgment about when it’s getting something done and when it’s not,” Rutledge states.
This generation of teens is familiar with social media and accustomed to seeing many people’s private lives made public. But even with that knowledge, it can be hard to understand how seemingly innocent posts may impact their future.
“Kids know that it’s public, but they don’t understand it in a visceral sense. It’s hard to visualize millions of people,” Rutledge explains. “Generally, when they post something, they’re thinking about their immediate friend group; the perception of the audience is much different than the reality.” So, it’s not a matter of teens censoring their thoughts or silencing their beliefs, but finding healthy boundaries.
“That’s the challenge: To help kids see that there are things that should not be public — not because they’re bad, but because they don’t need to be shared.”
Cancel Culture in 2021
It’s important to help young people spot the difference between statements or actions that are deliberately harmful/hateful, or that were made out of ignorance, immaturity, or through a mistake. After all, we’ve all said something in our youth that we regretted, but hopefully we learned a lesson and matured.
Kids who get canceled don’t always get that opportunity and are often no different than kids who have been bullied in a traditional setting.
“Cancel culture has just become a new name for bullying, but somehow you can feel more virtuous if you’re calling it canceling,” Rutledge says. So, while this new forum should allow people to express themselves, it should not become a new opportunity for making people feel less than, no matter what the reasoning.
“We’ve done such a great job of educating people about bullying that it’s hard to feel good about yourself if you know that you’re bullying,” she says.
Helping Kids Protect Themselves
The key is having an ongoing conversation with your child. Ask them about what they are seeing online and what kinds of behaviors they’re engaging in, and why. Try to constantly reinforce the permanency of anything they share in any public space. Unfortunately, anything that your kids put out there now will follow them far beyond their teenage years — no matter which side of cancel culture they land on.
“That’s the danger of making all of this stuff public is that it precludes your ability to evolve,” Rutledge says. “You want to be able to grow and change. You don’t want to leave all of these markers of who you were along the way for public consumption.”