What happened after my 13 year old son joined the alt-right
May 7, 2019 2:35 AM   Subscribe

 
Very engrossing read. Thanks for posting. It’s got me thinking about my own parenting choices with regard to respectful parenting and the challenges that poses.
posted by CMcG at 3:26 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


The trigger - the false accusations aggravated by the authorities' overreach - is heartbreaking.
posted by micketymoc at 3:26 AM on May 7 [37 favorites]


Related and highly recommended: My Descent into the Alt-Right Pipeline, a 38 min YT video by a former alt-righter who was able to come back out. It's among the best videos I've seen in a long time, and definitely worth the time investment. I don't think I've ever seen a more illuminating personal account into the process of descending into and ascending back out of far right thought.

(The top comment is by none other than ContraPoints thanking him for sharing his story. She was also cited by the video creator as one of the main influences in bringing him back to his senses.)
posted by jklaiho at 3:28 AM on May 7 [41 favorites]


If I expressed an opinion, you thought I was just a dumbass kid trying to find my voice. I already had my voice.”

“All I wanted was for people to take me seriously,” he repeated matter-of-factly. “They treated me like a rational human being, and they never laughed at me. I saw the way you and Dad looked at each other and tried not to smile when I said something. I could hear you both in your room at night, laughing at me.”

I struggled for a moment because I wanted to tell him that wasn’t true. But I couldn’t deny his accusation. Behind closed doors, when my husband and I thought our children were asleep, we had often vented to each other about Sam’s off-the-wall proclamations and the bizarre situation we found ourselves in.

So I told Sam simply that I was sorry for making him feel bad.


I remember my parents, my mother particularly, being similarly dismissive of my young thoughts and opinions - it still strongly colours my relationship with her nearly 30 years later (not in a good way). I remember the hunger to be taken seriously and the consequent hunger to grow up in a great big hurry, getting offered that adulthood on a plate by the far right is something I'm glad didn't happen to me.

Kids aren't people in waiting, they are people. Treat them as such and when you fuck it up don't apologise for making them feel bad, apologise for fucking it up. The problem is not that he heard the laughter and felt bad, the problem is that he was laughed at. That final line above would have (and did) made me so angry.
posted by deadwax at 3:44 AM on May 7 [110 favorites]


Thanks for the post, xdvesper. I was almost afraid to read it. Spoiler alert: There's a happy ending. Mentioning that for folks who, like me, don't want to read many stories that end in heartbreak, however true they may be.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:48 AM on May 7 [45 favorites]


I thought the part you quoted was particularly interesting, deadwax, because i didn't really get a sense of what the parents could have done differently in practice. How do you help a teenager feel heard when what they are saying is stupid and or hateful? The mom claims elsewhere that they take time to argue with him and refute stuff. Would he have felt heard if they had kicked him out of the house? If loving somebody is believing in their best self then to what extent does that require ignoring their shitty self?
posted by ropeladder at 4:14 AM on May 7 [36 favorites]


The trigger - the false accusations aggravated by the authorities' overreach - is heartbreaking.

Hmmm, I don't know about that. I found it interesting that during the whole piece she never questioned once whether her son actually did harass that girl. As a parent, I think it's laudable to always be in your kids' corner and defending them. As someone who worked as a childcarer for many years, however, I know that children come up with some buck wild stories - even when they think they're telling the truth. As a carer, I was always gobsmacked at the ability parents had to steadfastly believe the highly implausible, self-interested things their kids were saying, never allowing for even a shadow of a doubt.

The false accusation - I think it's highly likely that the boys, as 13 year old boys are wont to do, said something gross and sexual to the girl or about the girl in her hearing. In my experience as a childcarer, young girls are not (or were not) in the habit of crying sexual harassment for fun, or for just one incident. When a woman or girl says they were sexually harassed, believe them, you know? 13 year old boys being sexist is not really so hard to believe. God, I was a good kid and I said some awful misogynist things at that age, really vicious.

Likewise, whilst it's obvious the school grossly mishandled the accusation, the account of the gulag-like conditions are based solely on what her son is telling her. Again, young kids feel their feelings very strongly, and their feelings don't always match what's happening on the outside.

I guess, that's where I have a little discomfort with this piece. Happy kid gets wrongly accused at school and starts hanging out with neo-nazis is very neat and elegant, but it's very narrative, you know? Real life is multi-causal, messy, inter-mixed.

I'd be interested to hear the teacher's perspective on this kid. He was clearly into "memes" before the accusation. Would they see a happy go lucky kid like his mum does, or a sensitive isolated kid struggling with the transition into high school (by no means uncommon)? And that struggle then leads into dark places online.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but letting a thirteen year old hang out unsupervised on chan just seems reckless to me. Computer in the lounge and get a bloody firewall, block some domains. 13 is super young to be evaluating liberalism vs cucks etc and your body a soup of hormones. Kids need guidance and role models; he found his in the worst place imaginable.
posted by smoke at 4:16 AM on May 7 [213 favorites]


My parents were really progressive and also pretty dang racist, and I was also the fat nerdy kid and got beat up a lot in high school, and I used BBSes a lot, but there wasn't much connectivity other than other geeky people locally. If there had been a global alt-right internet in 1980 I could have gotten onto with a web click, I would absolutely have gotten sucked into it. Even so, it took a couple decades for me to shed most of my inclulated garbage and turn into a reasonably aware lefity feminist (still improving, though).

The internet is so powerful and can be such a force for good, as well as for evil.

What is needed more than ever is for there to be a local community of people who love and accept you as a person in person, not (just) on a screen.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:17 AM on May 7 [16 favorites]


This isn't saying anything new, but this piece made me feel the loss of the internet of 20 years ago. (I say, cognizant that Metafilter is one of the few surviving pieces of the internet of 20 years ago.) 20 years ago, I was a depressed 12 year old who spent all their time on the Die-Hard Cub Fan Club listserv, writing long Very Serious e-mails. I'm sure it was painfully obvious to everyone that I was a kid, but I certainly felt I was being taken seriously by adults. I don't know that venues for that exist any more.

(9/11 was a weird turning point for that listserv. There was no baseball for two weeks and we spent most of it fighting. We kept going for another few years, but it was really the beginning of the end.)
posted by hoyland at 4:23 AM on May 7 [36 favorites]


Maybe I'm old fashioned, but letting a thirteen year old hang out unsupervised on chan just seems reckless to me. Computer in the lounge and get a bloody firewall, block some domains.

Let's face it, in 2019 you're not realistically going to be able to prevent a determined teenager from accessing things online that you think they're not supposed to access. At best, you'll limit the hours of day during which they're able to do it, which is not nothing (enough to prevent a kid from becoming a subreddit mod, for sure), but with ubiquitous internet everywhere, they'll always find a way.
posted by jklaiho at 4:24 AM on May 7 [24 favorites]


Similar to smoke, I found the story to be a bit too pat, a narrative as self serving for the mother as the representation of the initial incident from the boy might be for him. The passage I quoted above is where that breaks down somewhat and I strongly suspect that the laughter behind closed doors in a figurative sense existed before everything went to hell, as well as during, and that it hints at a causal relationship that's a bit more complex and awkward than what we read here. That's why I picked it out.
posted by deadwax at 4:30 AM on May 7 [31 favorites]



This isn't saying anything new, but this piece made me feel the loss of the internet of 20 years ago


In the nineties, GeoCities chat of all things and the White Wolf RPG chat rooms blew my teenaged mind. And you know what? People were really super friendly and not at all right wing and totally fucking nuts!

Let's face it, in 2019 you're not realistically going to be able to prevent a determined teenager from accessing things online

I agree they'll find a way, but what's described in the piece is hands of the wheel entirely. I mean, I work in IT; blocking a 14 year old from regular access to the chans and vile subreddits on the home network, personal laptop and phone would be trivial, like, an hour's work.
posted by smoke at 4:31 AM on May 7 [17 favorites]


deadwax: "The problem is not that he heard the laughter and felt bad, the problem is that he was laughed at."

This seems idealistic to the point of just pretending that parents are not humans.

You have a family member that is starting to, basically, turn evil. And it's not a distant cousin that you only deal with once in a while, or a grandparent whom you're not responsible for, but your own child; someone who you must do all you can to keep from turning to the dark side. That has to be supremely psychologically taxing. I mean, I get stressed out because my son doesn't study, I can't even imagine what emotional state I would be in if my son were going to join nazi rallies.

When faced with this kind of unrelenting stress, day in, day out, laughter is one way of not going absolutely crazy. But you're a parent, and laughing at something ridiculous the kid says is hurtful, so you keep your mouth shut when your kid is around. And your kid is 13 and not in any clubs and doesn't engage in outside activities. When you get home from work, your kid is there. They are there in the same house until you go to work the next morning. So you and your spouse are good parents: you keep on a game face, even when your kid says something ridiculous. And then there is one little sliver of time in each day where you are with your spouse, but your kid is gone: after bedtime.

And you're saying that you can't even retreat into humor then? That you're a bad parent for ever laughing at anything your kid does, until they turn 18 and leave the house?
posted by Bugbread at 4:31 AM on May 7 [141 favorites]


Let's face it, in 2019 you're not realistically going to be able to prevent a determined teenager from accessing things online that you think they're not supposed to access.

This was true in 1998.
posted by deadwax at 4:33 AM on May 7 [16 favorites]


smoke: "I found it interesting that during the whole piece she never questioned once whether her son actually did harass that girl."

True, but to sort things out, you need both sides of the story, and there's this:

But the administrator refused to reveal the particulars of the complaint (he had also blacked out identifying details, FBI-style) and then hid the paperwork under a book.

One of the common threads in incidents that come out about misbehavior by school officials is that schools tend to be pretty forthcoming when information actually supports their claims, but when their claims aren't supported, they get really...er...I can't remember the adjective for "information-hidey"...it's not "obfuscatory"....well, anyway, very concealy and vague. So if my kid said "I did A" and the school said "He did B," I'd probably believe the school (sorry, son!), but if the school just said "He did something very bad, but we can't really tell you exactly what," I'd probably believe my son.
posted by Bugbread at 4:45 AM on May 7 [73 favorites]


And it was true in 1998 that despicable and hateful people were just waiting to groom, deceive and recruit vulnerable young people. I had friends in the punk scene in the early and mid '90s, good-hearted and loving people, to whom some difficult thing happened (lost a job, bad breakup, parents kicked them out) and who turned seemingly overnight from the people I knew to literal skinheads. All supported by this apparatus of hate that had always been waiting to embrace them; all armed with statistics they thought were convincing and anecdotes they thought were powerful.

They didn't need the internet, though the internet would have made the horrific work they were doing that much easier. All they needed was a kid looking to be taken seriously and to be nearby with an answer. Some of those people I knew made it back to the light; I assume some didn't but I've lost touch by this point with basically all of them. But it's one of the big regrets of my life that we didn't do a better job of being the friends they needed, or convincing them that the answers they were getting were lies.
posted by penduluum at 4:48 AM on May 7 [16 favorites]


Can someone help me out here, I am having trouble absorbing/parsing what happened to trigger all of this.

How could a kid be pulled out of his next class, be accused of breaking the law, intimidated into thinking that the police were coming, and forced to write a "statement of guilt", all without the parent having been called, and it seems like the first time his mom got to know of it was six hours later?

What even is a statement of guilt? Like... a confession?

And then two days later a school administrator implies that the son is gay in front of parents, not only that but in a derogatory fashion?

And after all of that he writes a letter of apology anyway?

I don't understand. Is this normal? Common? Legal? What in the world is going on??
posted by theony at 4:48 AM on May 7 [35 favorites]


Yeah, I dunno, the BBS world of the 90s and the social web of the early 2000s didn't have an organized alt-right, but it didn't have an organized much of anything. I remember lots of aggressive antiprogressive bullshit, including loads of "girls lie about rape" and "LOL roofies," loads of "Jews control the media," loads of "my admiration of Nazis is totally a joke, only heh no it's serious, wait no just fucking with you it's totally a joke." Grudging admiration for school shooters was a pretty mainstream sentiment. The same talking points that got packaged and standardized under the red-pill rubric were already going around individually. Fact-checking was harder, and outright lies about foreign cultures or US politics could win an argument with no recourse.

This totally could have happened in my day. This did happen in my day. It just happened to fewer people because there were fewer of us online in the first place.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:52 AM on May 7 [13 favorites]


And you're saying that you can't even retreat into humor then? That you're a bad parent for ever laughing at anything your kid does, until they turn 18 and leave the house?

Not remotely. But, you know, I laugh at friends doing stupid shit all the time and I tell them it's stupid shit and then we talk like equals and we move on and maybe they learnt something. I get it in reverse too. The parents I most admire do that with their kids and their kids learn from it. That's one thing. Another thing is that it's possible to think your kid is doing something daft, stupid, dangerous or just flat out not on, prohibit them from doing it and yet not belittle them for it, or imply the belittlement. I watch friends do this too and it seems to work. Thirdly, I'm taking the laughter here in a figurative sense and taking it as an expression of children's, and teenagers' particularly, lesser-ness. Be it an eyeroll, a smirk, an outright dismissal or something more subtle.


I laugh at my kid and he laughs at me, but he's five months old. I'll stuff this up at some point, I just hope I remember my childhood.
posted by deadwax at 4:52 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


I also have a lot of questions about what actually happened with the harassment claim. It seems like an extreme overreaction from the school if this was truly nothing. And maybe it was nothing. But I also have a hard time believing the son was truly as innocent as the parent here is making him out to be. There just seems to be a lot of "but my son is a good kid!" justification going on here and ... I just don't know. I feel like there are some holes there.

And the parent's whole "well, maybe they're Nazis, but at least my son has friends" attitude is ... super odd to me.

I do feel like it's an interesting look at why some people fall into these things (although maybe oversimplified and dressed up a bit) but there are just some gaps in the storytelling that don't quite site right with me.
posted by darksong at 4:54 AM on May 7 [25 favorites]


deadwax: "Be it an eyeroll, a smirk, an outright dismissal or something more subtle."

But...the quote you're responding to is "when my husband and I thought our children were asleep, we had often vented to each other". There's no way he could hear a smirk from another room after going to bed.

I think you're angry about something that isn't actually indicated as having happened.
posted by Bugbread at 5:06 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


From what I quoted above:

I saw the way you and Dad looked at each other and tried not to smile when I said something.

This is the third time I'm noting that I'm taking the laughter broadly and that I'm taking it as a stand in for all behaviour that belittles the child. We don't exchange looks and try not to smile in front of our friends without expecting to get called on it pretty hard or to compromise the friendship. Kids notice too, but they don't have the standing to call us on it.

The quote is longer than the bit you have focused on.
posted by deadwax at 5:18 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Listening to your parents make fun of you in the other room is horribly embarassing and angering. Learning that he heard was probably awful for them...but they still should have been more careful. I really identify with what deadwax said, that kids are people, not people in waiting. I think there needs to be way more recognition of that in our culture.
posted by agregoli at 5:21 AM on May 7 [19 favorites]


I hope the kid really did come back from the abyss, as his mom asserts.

But I'd be lying if I said this wasn't playing in my head the whole time I read that story.
posted by non canadian guy at 5:33 AM on May 7 [7 favorites]


I'm inclined to believe the story about the harassment claim, after spending a week arguibg with a teacher over plagiarism charges, which ended with "Ooops, sorry I threatened your child with expulsion, I had him mixed up with another student. My bad!" Unlike the author, I had the chance to believe my son and tell him that the teacher was wrong. And that brings me to this:

"“I liked them because they were adults and they thought I was an adult. I was one of them,” he said. “I was participating in a conversation. They took me seriously. No one ever took me seriously—not you, not my teachers, no one. If I expressed an opinion, you thought I was just a dumbass kid trying to find my voice. I already had my voice.”

I can't be hard on the author for venting to her husband because you know what? Sometimes, 13-year-olds do dumbass stuff. But I also understand how a 13-year-old who is vulnerable and at the mercy of shame can be deeply damaged by hearing a self-doubt confirmed. I can't blame a 13-year-old--especially post-disciplinary incident--for erroneously thinking "Nobody takes me seriously!" The way this story is told, I can see clearly how hate worked opportunistically, how it groomed Sam and predated on him. It can be very hard in the moment, especially with the rest of life continuing apace, to see how vulnerable a sulky, screen-obsessed, individuation-driven young teenager can be. For kids like that, to find a community that takes them seriously just at that critical moment? That must feel like an answer, a way to be, a tribe...of hidden child-exploiters. Under the jokes and memes, it's an abusive trap for vulnerable people. I am so glad for Sam and his family that he found a way out.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:37 AM on May 7 [15 favorites]


Hmmm, I don't know about that. I found it interesting that during the whole piece she never questioned once whether her son actually did harass that girl. As a parent, I think it's laudable to always be in your kids' corner and defending them. As someone who worked as a childcarer for many years, however, I know that children come up with some buck wild stories - even when they think they're telling the truth. As a carer, I was always gobsmacked at the ability parents had to steadfastly believe the highly implausible, self-interested things their kids were saying, never allowing for even a shadow of a doubt.

The false accusation - I think it's highly likely that the boys, as 13 year old boys are wont to do, said something gross and sexual to the girl or about the girl in her hearing. In my experience as a childcarer, young girls are not (or were not) in the habit of crying sexual harassment for fun, or for just one incident. When a woman or girl says they were sexually harassed, believe them, you know? 13 year old boys being sexist is not really so hard to believe. God, I was a good kid and I said some awful misogynist things at that age, really vicious.


I agree so much with this. When my youngest was 14, she suddenly wanted to change schools. She was adamant about it, and we let her. Years later, she told us why: a couple of boys had harassed her regularly. Obviously we asked why she didn't tell us, or the school authorities, and she said rather matter of factly that no one would have been able to do anything, if we had even believed her. One of the harrassers' mother was on the school board, and if we even slightly questioned her son's behavior at meetings, she flew into a white rage. (There was a racist aspect to this as well, he was one of the few white boys in a class that was the first generation of mixed recruitment. And as a white boy, he could do no wrong).

Another thing about parenting. The girl I am a relief mother for has terrible internet use. When she is at my house, I forbid it, and I check what she is doing regularly. When she is here, it becomes too much of a bother to do the forbidden stuff. But there's another thing: she is 13, she argues with me, and she listens to my reasoning even though she gets angry. So when we are discussing her internet use, I am telling her about our values. And while she doesn't agree, she does absorb. She learns something she can apply later in life, when the hormonal rage has lifted a bit.
posted by mumimor at 5:38 AM on May 7 [35 favorites]


My 18-year-old turned super conservative a few years back. While previously a critical thinker, he now takes talking points from Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, and right-wing Republicans at face value, and develops complicated "logic" to support them. (Last week, he told me that it was a moral imperative to support the well being of violent criminals in the US above that of innocent people from other countries, because it was an extension of our natural affinity for our families.)

I calmly discussed the issues he wanted to for years, and sometimes still do, but it's so exhausting and pointless that I sometimes explicitly opt out ("I am not going to talk about guns or abortion right now"). Talking about politics is pretty much all he wants to do though, which makes it so darn hard to have a positive relationship with him.

It's heartbreaking, and I think that raising kids to have decent values is one of the most important jobs of parenting, and I've utterly failed at that. But nothing works. I can't change his mind any more than you can change the mind of your racist uncle.
posted by metasarah at 5:43 AM on May 7 [87 favorites]


Thank you for posting this story. It makes me think about discussions here on Metafilter about whether to stay engaged with people who are getting sucked into the alt-right, or cut them off.

Anyway, I hope she discussed this article in great detail with her son beforehand, 'cause I expect that he's going to get a lot of hate for it.
posted by clawsoon at 5:44 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


metasarah, my brother was like that for a long while. And then we he met his wife and they started a family, he changed completely. I won't say it was a game he played, he was serious about all the stupid stuff. But when he decided to become a real adult, he let it go. So don't give up hope.
posted by mumimor at 5:47 AM on May 7 [27 favorites]


Anyway, I hope she discussed this article in great detail with her son beforehand, 'cause I expect that he's going to get a lot of hate for it.
It's anonymous, so I think probably nobody will figure out it's him. And I really want to know whether the magazine fact-checked the convenient fake-sexual-harassment-accusation story.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:56 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


I'd be most interested in the family dynamic in the 6 months leading up to "the incident".

I thank my lucky stars that when I was 14 and nobody listened to me, I found model rocketry, not nazis.
posted by parki at 5:56 AM on May 7 [17 favorites]


Kids aren't people in waiting, they are people.

The problem is that they are people that want to, as my 5 year did last night, do things like mix bug spray into their tea to "see what it tastes like". And then have a total, screaming breakdown when you assert your required authority and say no.

There is a substantial portion of parenting that consists of drawing lines big and small and enforcing them for people who have not yet had the time to develop perspective or a broad-based knowledge of the world.

It's often very, very shitty and, as you note, leaves scars, but the alternative is worse and, as most of us learn on the job, probably the best we could do. As here, it can sometimes go terribly wrong, but the parents don't strike me as negligent or emotionally deficient in some way.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:58 AM on May 7 [65 favorites]


"One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment."

Did Sam's parents talk to the male friend's parents to get their take on this? No indication of that. It would have been wise to compare the boys' stories. Was the friend (source of the meme) disciplined?
posted by Carol Anne at 6:00 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


If you smile condescendingly in front of your kid, you're being a bad parent. If you try not to smile, I'd say you're trying to be a good parent.

Since we're talking about things that there needs to be way more recognition of in our culture, I'd say that one of them is "Not all things that kids do that are bad are caused by parental failings." Children aren't robots. They're humans. As parents, one can improve the odds of ones kids coming out well, but one cannot guarantee it. There is a tendency, in any story like this, to start a search for "what did the parents do wrong," with an implicit assumption that they "must have done something wrong, because look at this kid!" But (thankfully), you don't see that chain of thought used in discussions of wonderful people with horrible childhoods. "Sure, your father was an abusive addict, but you turned out well, so he must have been a good parent."

Being a shitty parent increases the odds of having shitty kids. Being a good parent increases the odds of having good kids. But society needs to recognize that "shitty parents = shitty kids" and "good parents = good kids" are not guarantees, just statistical likelihoods.
posted by Bugbread at 6:04 AM on May 7 [53 favorites]


I'm inclined to view the author's take on her kid's purported harassment as the understandably-biased take of a parent who loves their kid. He probably actually did something wrong, to one degree or another. Even so, the school's reaction suuuuuuuuuuuucks.

"Good ones can keep moving down the line, bad ones into the garbage" is a solid way to sort peanuts at a factory, not so much a way to nurture kids in a school. There has to be a way to nip harassment in the bud and call it out when it is seen without writing a kid off as a human being such that they see no open avenue other than a rabbit hole of awfulness.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:10 AM on May 7 [16 favorites]


When we did confront Sam—say, if we caught a glimpse of a vile meme on his phone—he assured us that it was meant to be funny and that we didn’t get it. It was either “post-ironic” or referenced multiple other events that created a maze-like series of in-jokes impossible for us to follow.

This and similar lines give me a different narrative of the qualities they imbued their son with than "empathetic."
posted by PMdixon at 6:17 AM on May 7 [14 favorites]


metasarah: It's heartbreaking, and I think that raising kids to have decent values is one of the most important jobs of parenting, and I've utterly failed at that. But nothing works. I can't change his mind any more than you can change the mind of your racist uncle.

You haven't failed. Learning how to counter arguments and emotional appeals from a sophisticated propaganda machine is a long-term process. You have one advantage, though, that the propaganda machine doesn't: You actually care about him.

Keep learning, keep trying different approaches, keep letting him know that you care.

G. K. Chesterton is highly problematic, but I can recommend his chapter on "The Maniac" in Orthodoxy as one (but only one, keep searching for more) perspective to consider in learning how to argue with "logical" worldviews. I'm also really interested in reading the Kill All Normies book mentioned in the article.

This is also very much tied up in learning how to be a man. That's what your son - and so many young men pulled into the alt-right - is trying to figure out. As boys, we're taught to be "logical" and "unemotional"; that's one essence of what it's supposed to be to be a man. That's what a lot of this propaganda plays on: You're not a man unless you buy into this Totally Logical™ worldview, and if you buy into any SJW stuff it means that you're a hysterical woman and not a man at all and you should feel ashamed about that.

Maybe ask him what it means to be a man? And what it means to be a good man? And how shaming works among men?

You'll be stepping into an emotional minefield that men have been trained to not recognize as emotional at all, No I Don't Feel Anything About That Why Do You Ask I'm Completely Blank Because I'm A Strong Man Who Feels Nothing And Is Totally Logical, but it's part of growing up as a man, learning a flexible, emotion-recognizing strength that allows you to not be afraid of shaming by other men.

I'm rambling now, but: A big thing that Shapiro and Milo and all the other "p0wned the feminist!" propagandists are playing on is men's fear of being shamed in conversation with other men. They are making these brilliant verbal sword-thrusts which are ultimately bullshit but which serve to definitely shut someone down and shame them. If you're a young man who's unsure of yourself, you don't ever want to be on the other side of that. You don't ever want to be thrust through in a group of men. The safest thing is to be on the side of the best verbal swordsmen, so you'll come up with all sorts of "logical" reasons as to why they're right.

Don't ever expect your boy to admit to any shame or uncertainty, though. That's the whole point of this stage of life: You never admit to things like that. You can ask questions about it, though. "What would happen if you thought that an SJW made a good argument, and then you repeated that argument to your friends? Not that an SJW would ever make a good argument, that's ridiculous of course [wink], but what if they did, and you repeated it?"
posted by clawsoon at 6:28 AM on May 7 [38 favorites]


PMdixon: "This and similar lines give me a different narrative of the qualities they imbued their son with than "empathetic.""

Well, yes, that (and other quotes) are examples of how he stopped being the empathetic kid he used to be and turned into a vile asshole.

Unless you're saying "he joined the alt-right, starting sharing horrible memes, modding an alt-right subreddit, joining an alt-right meet, so he must have always been terrible, and anything positive traits they saw in him before that change must have actually been misinterpreted evil traits?" Man, that's a bleak outlook.
posted by Bugbread at 6:33 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


I'll add: This is also about learning how to become a verbal swordsman yourself. He's arguing with you to learn about the world, so some of your facts do matter, but he's also arguing to learn how to defend himself against other men, how to hold his own in a group (and a world!) where confident bullshit is more important to your status than empathy or careful consideration.

He might not realize that this is what he's doing. It might be worth exploring with him how important confident bullshit that wins an argument is (or is not!).
posted by clawsoon at 6:35 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


I think the problem I see is that the mom wants to say “it’s all about the actions of the school and this tragic misunderstanding”, but BEFORE that happened, even by what the kid is willing to admit, they were sharing shitty sexual memes in middle school, and saw no problem with boisterously joking about them in a mixed, public environment. Like, I don’t doubt that the kid found being come down on scary, but - there’s definitely more there.

My kid got suspended in a letter-of-the-law way, and all of her friends stayed her friends and were super sympathetic. The fact that this kid lost friends over it suggests to me it wasn’t as clearcut as the mom obviously thinks.

Also when my kid got suspended, I didn’t get to see the original complaint either, because schools rightly fear that moms will come down like a sack of hammers on these other kids. It’s not a special sign of shiftiness, it’s protocol. (Also with the ‘statement of guilt’ - kids are always asked to write a statement from their point of view)
posted by corb at 6:42 AM on May 7 [43 favorites]


Haven't read the article yet, but I feel the need to point out that black kids regualrly get overly-scrutinized and over-punished by school authorities and somehow manage not to go home and radicalize themselves via the internet.
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 6:47 AM on May 7 [97 favorites]


(In the Orthodoxy link I posted, I'd suggest skipping over all the original sin and Marxist Socialist stuff. Search for "The last thing that can be said of a lunatic is that his actions are causeless", and start from there. You'll find a couple of paragraphs that apply well to the alt-right.)
posted by clawsoon at 6:47 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


This and similar lines give me a different narrative of the qualities they imbued their son with than "empathetic."

He was many months into being inducted into extreme alt-right views. Generally, people with extreme views are not empathetic at all - some of that can even be seen in this thread.

but the parents don't strike me as negligent or emotionally deficient in some way

So - they mentioned they are Jewish - if that was me as a parent, I would be definitely thinking that this was an "acting-out" phase that wasn't entirely serious. I recall many youth (in my youth) "acting-out", ... oh, our parents/Church are dead-set against "X", so we will do "X". (D&D, Wiccanism, Goth, "heavy-metal music", etc.) - heck, at a Catholic school we had "Doc Marten wearing" skinhead Nazi's - but we also had "Doc Marten wearing" anti-American skinheads (you could tell because their laces were blue... the Nazi's would wear red laces) and even anti-fascists.
posted by jkaczor at 6:50 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


One of the common threads in incidents that come out about misbehavior by school officials is that schools tend to be pretty forthcoming when information actually supports their claims, but when their claims aren't supported, they get really...er...I can't remember the adjective for "information-hidey"...it's not "obfuscatory"....well, anyway, very concealy and vague. So if my kid said "I did A" and the school said "He did B," I'd probably believe the school (sorry, son!), but if the school just said "He did something very bad, but we can't really tell you exactly what," I'd probably believe my son.

As a current educator, I agree. The school almost certainly overreached, panicked, and then tried to legitimize its actions after the fact by hiding information and forcing the boy to sign a confession. The initial comment that started this ball rolling could have actually been something he said or something that she heard. It sounds like the school was not forthcoming to the parent.

All of this brings to light how institutions such as schools react to the actions of children. If this account is to be believed, they had a punitive system down for children instead of a protective and rehabilitative system. Unjust systems inspire distrust, not just in themselves but in their values. As much as we're talking about the rights and wrongs of parenting, I'm more concerned with alienation that our schools are inflicting upon children.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:51 AM on May 7 [18 favorites]


This was an interesting read. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:53 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Let's face it, in 2019 you're not realistically going to be able to prevent a determined teenager from accessing things online that you think they're not supposed to access. At best, you'll limit the hours of day during which they're able to do it, which is not nothing (enough to prevent a kid from becoming a subreddit mod, for sure), but with ubiquitous internet everywhere, they'll always find a way.

A determined kid will find a way, but only if they want to. And they won't want to until they've wandered in by chance and looked around. Blocking things and supervising can dramatically reduce the risk that they wander in and look around.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:59 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


CatastropheWaitress: "black kids regualrly get overly-scrutinized and over-punished by school authorities and somehow manage not to go home and radicalize themselves via the internet."

The alt-right doesn't exactly go after them. It's more an issue of which groups target which demographics. The KKK, IS, Crips, and MS13 generally recruit from different pools.
posted by Bugbread at 6:59 AM on May 7 [13 favorites]


The only time I was in trouble in all of school was middle school was when my friends parent tried to get me expelled because she decided I liked her daughter (which I was 13 and definately late bloomer relationship wise and it actually wasnt on my mind at the time)
I remember it being a really big issue and may have required a psych eval? They were combing over handwriiten notes to eachother (this was pre Columbine, I'm pretty the if it has been after I would have been expelled) it was implied I threatened people. I was a honor roll student with no displinary history.

I distinctly remember making up reasons I said what I said in the way I said that sounded somewhat plausible because I knew the stakes were really really high.

I wasnt expelled but I think how that could have gone very very differently.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:03 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


There are so many things going wrong here and many of them aren’t about the alt-right but rather naive parents who refused to parent their kid through the stormy seas of adolescence in favor of making excuses for him. My parents did lots of things wrong (including laughing at me! I still remember my mom gossiping to a woman I barely knew when I got my period!) but they would never have given me free reign to spend so much time on an alt-right website that I was able to become a moderator.

The fact that the author opens the story with a tale of how her child and his friend had an inside joke that another student mistook for *sexual harassment* as though the reader would view her son as a victim...whew, there is some perspective missing here.
posted by sallybrown at 7:07 AM on May 7 [29 favorites]


I bet there are many of us who grew up in families where mocking humor was an everyday occurrence and used as fondness and it made us more empathetic, not less. I do view this kid as a victim in that he lost years of his life to the brain warp of the internet because his parents wanted to let him “explore” rather than get real with him.
posted by sallybrown at 7:09 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


Related Teenage Pricks The allure of Trumpism to white young men is the ability to get away with anything.
posted by The Whelk at 7:18 AM on May 7 [26 favorites]


Good article - the part I enjoyed the most is why the kid eventually started turning away from the alt-right. He met these people and realized they're losers. It's easy to build a larger-than-life personality online, but it falls apart when you see behind the proverbial curtain. There's a reason that "in their mom's basement" is such a common term applied to these people.

I think most (?) people who have been to college have had personal experiences with kooks. There are always people on campus shouting ludicrous things about whatever hot-button issue of the day, and everyone learned to walk past them and ignore it. I don't think it's coincidental that the people who react most to the alt-right message are people who haven't had that experience (teenagers, working-class people who never went to college) or people whose memory of that experience is distant (old people).
posted by kevinbelt at 7:19 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


This is a good read but honestly my sincerest reaction is that it makes me feel unstuck in time. My frame of reference in all of this is much closer to Sam's but demographically I'm surely closer to his parent.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:20 AM on May 7


"I'm also really interested in reading the Kill All Normies book mentioned in the article."

I would strongly suggest reading Alt-America by David Neiwert instead. Nagle has a whole section in KAN blaming Tumblr and liberals for the alt-right, and Alt-America is far more detailed and written by someone who is far less sympathetic to the alt-right. I have read pretty much all of the books that have come out about the alt-right, and A-A is the best.
posted by bootlegpop at 7:26 AM on May 7 [30 favorites]


The school almost certainly overreached, panicked, and then tried to legitimize its actions after the fact by hiding information and forcing the boy to sign a confession. The initial comment that started this ball rolling could have actually been something he said or something that she heard. It sounds like the school was not forthcoming to the parent.

Except we don't know what actually happened, and the parent's description is missing a lot of context around a lot of things that they say happened.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:29 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


I'm also going to go out on a limb here and mourn the death of the non-alt right. When I was a teenager, I was susceptible to a lot of these same ideas, but I turned to William F. Buckley. Say what you will about WFB, I've mostly moved on from him, but he wasn't a nihilist who induced people to behave intentionally anti-socially. He wasn't a troll, and he tried to keep trolls out of his movement, for the most part. I have a hard time imagining him tolerating someone like Milo. There's no one comparable anymore on the center-right. Heck, there's no one even comparable to lesser figures like Bill Kristol or Charles Krauthammer. If you're a young person leaning right, the most moderate you're really going to be able to find anymore is someone like Ben Shapiro, whose entire persona is "I'm an asshole". (You could obviously make the case that Buckley and Kristol were assholes, too, and you'd be right, but at least they offered something more than mere assholery.) I feel like that's not the case on the left, where even though there's so much socialism these days, there are still New Republic-type centrists aplenty.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:30 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


A couple of months ago I overheard a group of multi-ethnic 12-year-old boys making alt-right talking points to each other on a streetcar while they were on a class trip. Unless we're willing to go to the extremes of groups like the Amish or religious homeschoolers, unless we're willing to give one-on-one supervision to every interaction our teen children have with their friends, we can't prevent our kids from being exposed to this stuff. (And even if we did go to those extremes, how well does the average young Amish person do when and if they're finally exposed to everything the world has to offer?)

We need to find different ways of combating this stuff, and I appreciate the fumbling exploration done by the parents in the article. How do you parent a child when you know that they're going to be presented with slickly marketed, emotionally appealing horrible ideas?
posted by clawsoon at 7:37 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Yeah well with your Buckley and your Krauthammer just dressed up the same basic ideology and made it palatable, tweedy, “Reasonable”. It’s how they sold it to the masses, we’re not “extremists” who think other races are inferior you see they just have a “cultural” problems that holds them back or they’re too “addicted” to social services. Dig around in their ideologies more then a surface level and it’s all the same John Bircher shit in a nicer box, hell Buckley himself turned out David Brooks from running his amazing cause he was Jewish. At least with the current crop all the masks are off.
posted by The Whelk at 7:37 AM on May 7 [44 favorites]


Man. So I have a six-year-old white son. I am terrified of this. I am doing my best with him, but parenting is hard. I make mistakes constantly, and each mistake I make comes with the sick feeling of, "Did I just fuck up my child for life, or will he completely forget this incident in 5 minutes?" Kids are individuals and one person's slam-dunk parenting hack will completely backfire with a different kid. It's honestly 24/7 terrifying if you stop for a second and think about it.

Regardless of what this child did or didn't do at school, if it happened as reported (having had contact with plenty of schools, honestly, fucked up shit like this does indeed happen--a friend's kindergartner got suspended for 3 days for bringing a standard issue watergun to school recently), the school handled it terribly. I would expect the school to call the student into an administrator's office, get the parent on speaker phone, relay the accusation, set up a parent meeting to discuss consequences with the parents present and send the kid home for the day. This whole 'you committed a crime' thing and now we're going to disappear you for six hours? Bonkers. That's also a great way to get a parent to go from being on your side to being on the kid's side. If my kid's school handled it the appropriate way, I would absolutely assume their accusations were accurate and I would be appropriately angry with my kid and ready, willing and able to work with the school on consequences and restitution. The way it went down (according to this account), however, turns the parent immediately into an adversary rather than a partner.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:39 AM on May 7 [29 favorites]


how well does the average young Amish person do when and if they're finally exposed to everything the world has to offer?

Rumspringa
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:39 AM on May 7 [10 favorites]


Say what you will about WFB, I've mostly moved on from him, but he wasn't a nihilist who induced people to behave intentionally anti-socially.

There are lots of people, especially African-Americans in the post-WW2 South, that would strenuously disagree with this characterization of Buckley (or for that matter Krauthammer and any of the Kristols).
posted by zombieflanders at 7:40 AM on May 7 [34 favorites]


Like Megan McArdle peddles some of the most dead eyed nihilistic world views known to man but she’s in a respectable print journal funded by billionaires and presents as a nice white lady and she doesn’t say slurs or go online so that makes it okay,
posted by The Whelk at 7:41 AM on May 7 [26 favorites]


They took me seriously. No one ever took me seriously—not you, not my teachers, no one. If I expressed an opinion, you thought I was just a dumbass kid trying to find my voice. I already had my voice.”

Actually, his teachers took him VERY seriously, that's what that whole disciplinary brouhaha was about -- taking what he had said/done seriously. Same thing for his friends, who apparently dropped him after the harassment accusation -- they dropped him because they were taking his speech and behavior seriously.

What this kid wanted was freedom to say and do whatever he wanted with only positive consequences and applause. When he didn't have total freedom from negative consequences or derision, he painted it as him being victimized. Well fuck that. He wants to be a grownup, then he has to take responsibility for his own words/actions like a grown up and face the natural consequences of his actions like a grown up. He wasn't actually willing to do that, though, which is why he fit into the "aggrieved entitlement" culture of the alt-right so well and soaked up their praise so easily and happily.

In reality, he can say and do whatever he feels like, nobody can actually stop him. But if he wants to do that outside of the Toxic Never Never Land of 4chan or wherever, then he needs to be ready to face the consequences of his own choices: getting laughed at, despised, kicked out of places or suspended, dropped as a friend. Nobody was reacting like that because he was a kid, they were reacting that way because what he was saying and doing was vile. They were ultimately FORGIVING because he was a kid. Although he's apparently still too immature and sheltered to appreciate that.

Honestly, the only reason altogether why this boy was able to get out of the pit he dug himself into was that his family was willing to keep treating him like a kid -- giving him excuses, shielding him from consequences, offering unconditional guidance and support. Hopefully, one day he'll be grateful for his second chance, but before he is, he'll have to learn some humility, get some perspective.

Unfortunately, it sounds like he hasn't yet. He didn't want to take responsibility and admit any fault even when he was writing a letter of apology to his classmate, and he STILL didn't want to take responsibility and admit any fault when he was debriefing with his mother after he'd dropped the alt-right poison. He's STILL playing the victim.

I don't think the parents really did anything wrong, they seem loving, attentive, and like they're doing their best. If anything, I think they were too easy on him, but who knows what would have happened if they hadn't been. Hopefully this boy faces an actual challenge at some point that he's not then whisked lovingly away from before he can learn any lessons from it and gets some perspective, though. Hopefully at SOME point, he grows up.
posted by rue72 at 7:42 AM on May 7 [71 favorites]


a box and a stick and a string and a bear: Rumspringa

That sounds a lot like what this kid did, except he was a Jew doing Rumspringa with Nazis. Huh.
posted by clawsoon at 7:45 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Nagle has a whole section in KAN blaming Tumblr and liberals for the alt-right, and Alt-America is far more detailed and written by someone who is far less sympathetic to the alt-right.

Nagle should be avoided in general. Nobody who goes on Tucker Carlson to find common ground on immigration is an actual enemy of of the alt-right.
posted by Rust Moranis at 7:46 AM on May 7 [13 favorites]


"How could a kid be pulled out of his next class, be accused of breaking the law, intimidated into thinking that the police were coming, and forced to write a "statement of guilt", all without the parent having been called, and it seems like the first time his mom got to know of it was six hours later?"

Incredibly bad school administrators who aren't trained on the law, have bad disciplinary procedures, and don't mind being sued. BUT SADLY COMMON.

"Also when my kid got suspended, I didn’t get to see the original complaint either, because schools rightly fear that moms will come down like a sack of hammers on these other kids. It’s not a special sign of shiftiness, it’s protocol. (Also with the ‘statement of guilt’ - kids are always asked to write a statement from their point of view)"

I believe your child goes to a private school? In which case some of this may be allowed. But it's NOT protocol, and it is actually a civil rights violation for a student at a public school who is being subjected to suspension or expulsion, which is a legal penalty imposed by a government entity and children have a right to face their accusers (especially if there's a claim that something criminal happened -- then we're into sixth amendment territory) and know the accusations against them. In some disciplinary situations accusing student identities can be shielded, but we always, always did this with a third-party adjudicator who specialized in school disciplinary hearings, specifically because it turns into such a touchy civil rights and privacy issue and the school should NOT be making that determination. Regardless of whether Sam was in the right or in the wrong, what this school did to Sam is illegal. If the parents chose to sue over it, they would have an excellent civil rights case and probably get at least a six-figure settlement. (I would certainly expect the school district to have to pay for his private school and for all costs of therapy, plus damages, and possibly enter an oversight agreement with the state's office of civil rights. And if it were my district, I'd fire the administrator who locked him in a series of rooms without his parents for six hours and threatened him with criminal sanctions.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:48 AM on May 7 [49 favorites]


Nagels’ stealth conservative argument that Tumblr, a website with fewer users at its height then Bing, was somehow responsible for a mass rightwing movement because there are too many genders these days, should be avoided.

(I really really wanted to like Kill All Normies but I ended up throwing that book across the room. Your sociology is bad and you should feel bad!)
posted by The Whelk at 7:48 AM on May 7 [32 favorites]


I am not a parent but I'd imagine it has to be hard to go from parenting a young child who is demonstrably not a fully-formed human being, to relating to that same person if perhaps not quite as an equal but as least as a fellow autonomous adult.

It seems like their son went from one to the other faster than their perceptions of him did, as is frequently the case, and it created a gap where he felt he was not being taken seriously and engaged with. And so he found some people who would.

In this case it was the alt-right (which is interesting in the context of current events), but it could have been something else. That's a pretty popular age to find a "bad crowd" and do dumb shit, and plenty of people (including just other kids looking for mutual reinforcement) will take advantage of you. If you're lucky, you get a gentle and no-longterm-harm correction; if you're not lucky, you get a 'correction' that fucks with the rest of your life. Or no correction at all.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:48 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


I guess, that's where I have a little discomfort with this piece. Happy kid gets wrongly accused at school and starts hanging out with neo-nazis is very neat and elegant, but it's very narrative, you know? Real life is multi-causal, messy, inter-mixed.

I agree with smoke here, this article is very good, but articles are well-served by having narratives. A life though... I don't see any reason why a teen would need any kind of precipitating event like the school incident to become interested in an online alt-right community. Being taken seriously and given responsibilities like being a moderator on Reddit are heady things when you're a teenager. There doesn't need to be any trouble at home or bad parenting for kids to fall in with a bad crowd. Bad crowds have their own definite appeal.

And the alt-right is a particularly appealing crowd if you're an angry (and white) teenage idiot looking for respect and validation - if you espouse their ideals, you'll be taken very seriously no matter how idiotic your arguments are because they want you to increase their numbers and repeat their message.

On that note, I'd like to defend his parents for laughing at him. I said all kinds of dumb and offensive shit as a teenager, and my dad never wasted any time taking me seriously... he laughed at me, and laughed even more when I fumed at being ridiculed. But he didn't just make fun of me all the time, he did it when I was being obnoxious. Looking back, I think that was good for me. And no doubt it helped preserve my parents' sanity while dealing with me for years on end.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:50 AM on May 7 [13 favorites]


Yeah, if my kid came home and started talking about how feminist women keep men from having custody of kids, and wanting to take selfies with full-on Nazis who are comfortable walking around in public in regalia, I'd be hard-pressed to be as kind and generous and loving with him as the mother in this article describes her being.

Especially if I were Jewish. I'm married to a Jewish man, and imagining our kid coming home to do this? I mean, what the fuck.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:53 AM on May 7 [18 favorites]


If the parents chose to sue over it, they would have an excellent civil rights case and probably get at least a six-figure settlement.
If that was what happened. I don't think she is lying, at all. I just think her perception of what happened (and her son's perception of what happened) may not be entirely the same as what factually happened, because they were worried and confused at the time.
posted by mumimor at 7:54 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


because they were worried and confused at the time.

The correct procedure is set up the way it is precisely so that no one will be confused.

It seems like their son went from one to the other faster than their perceptions of him did, as is frequently the case, and it created a gap where he felt he was not being taken seriously and engaged with.

This is the dictionary definition of "tween."
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:55 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


they mentioned they are Jewish

This bit surprised me. Not that Jews can't have prejudices, but I would have thought we were inoculated at least against Naziism. Surely he'd has a minimum of Holocaust education, and also realised that there were no cabal meetings happening at his house? (I mean, I do have suspicions about my friend David: he keeps saying that all of these conferences he goes to are for Magic: the Gathering, and he does have a LOT of cards, but that could just be a front ...)

I would have thought that being one of the hated would be a good reason not to join a hate-movement. But then I remember that there are anti-feminist women, and that people are complicated and capable of a lot of cognitive dissonance.
posted by jb at 7:59 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


According to the parents' account, this kid had a trauma response -- withdrawing, losing affect. Regardless of what he said in the inciting incident and regardless of what he did afterwards, he was shaken to the core. He's thirteen. It's true that, as a white kid with a middle-class, loving family, he gets second chances that other kids wouldn't get. It's also true that he was treated very badly by people who, he had every reason to believe in those few hours, could ruin his future. Hurt people hurt people.

You may say that it's a hell of a thing that a white boy's feelings should have to be handled so gently lest he take a notion to start murdering people or advocating therefor, and I get it. But is the boy a person or a symptom? To his parents, clearly, he's a person, but to us, the almighty internet, he's a symptom, a rhetorical tool for one side or the other.

I'm so glad that the dumb teenage shit on the internet I was involved in was bitter arguments about whether it was wrong to write gross porn about cartoon characters.* This kid needed guidance online, and I don't think that need began after the day, either. The danger of online pedos trolling for your kids is, as always, far less than imagined, but there are people online waiting to make use of the young at every turn.

Say what you will about WFB, I've mostly moved on from him, but he wasn't a nihilist who induced people to behave intentionally anti-socially.

You have to admire his tenacity for a cause he believed in.

-----
* Which is no longer an argument I make, but the first time you see an Animaniac getting it on with a Simpson, it is liable to angry up the blood.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:59 AM on May 7 [23 favorites]


Actually, his teachers took him VERY seriously, that's what that whole disciplinary brouhaha was about -- taking what he had said/done seriously. Same thing for his friends, who apparently dropped him after the harassment accusation -- they dropped him because they were taking his speech and behavior seriously.

No, it wasn't. School administrators going "respect my authoritah" is very much the exact opposite of taking what was said seriously.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:00 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


Kadin2048: "It seems like their son went from one to the other faster than their perceptions of him did, as is frequently the case, and it created a gap where he felt he was not being taken seriously and engaged with."

And, as the parent of a tween (who, thankfully, is not being drawn to any horrible extremes), there's also the issue that the transition isn't a one-direction slide.

If you have a 10 year old kid who, a few days out of the year, acts like an adult, are they an adult? No.

If you have a 20 year old kid who, a few days out of the year, acts like a little kid, are they a little kid? No.

But the middle is messy. If your 13 year old acts like an elementary school kid 6 days a week and a high school kid 1 day a week, what are they? What if the ratio is 5:2? 4:3? 3:4? 2:5? There's no clear line of "this is how adult my kid is now." It varies by day. Sometimes the kid you're talking to is like an equal, sometimes they're like a little kid. Even if your perception is "my kid is about halfway," there are often gaps in "this is how old he's acting today" and "this is how old he feels today."
posted by Bugbread at 8:08 AM on May 7 [19 favorites]


I think details of some things (the specific meme the kid claimed to have been talking about etc) were left out to keep the author anonymous.
posted by gryftir at 8:14 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


deadwax: Kids aren't people in waiting, they are people.

ryanshepard: The problem is that they are people that want to, as my 5 year did last night, do things like mix bug spray into their tea to "see what it tastes like". And then have a total, screaming breakdown when you assert your required authority and say no.

We have two boys -- a precious 7 year old, and a 4 year old who wants to do everything the 7 year old does. We try to talk to them like little people and don't sugar-coat much, but we also realize that there's still a lot that's too much for them at this point in their lives. We still have to say "because we're the parents" with some frequency, but I realize that there'll be a point where this may get harder. And that's a bit scary, in the light of this. In the meantime, we try to humanize everyone, discuss sexism and racism, and their privilege of being white males.


smoke: Maybe I'm old fashioned, but letting a thirteen year old hang out unsupervised on chan just seems reckless to me. Computer in the lounge and get a bloody firewall, block some domains. 13 is super young to be evaluating liberalism vs cucks etc and your body a soup of hormones. Kids need guidance and role models; he found his in the worst place imaginable.

The problem is that toxic shit is everywhere. Sure, you can block domains and filter searchers, but then there's YouTube, both as a source of toxic alt-right shit, and for tutorials on ways to bypass filters and blocks. Or they can go to their friends' houses, where their parents might not try to lock things down.

Looking ahead to something I hope I won't have to deal with, but I imagine we'll have more talks about the shit you can find online, and openly discuss their views on those matters, and then think about why other people might say or do those things. Luckily, our older kid is big on science, so I don't think there's much of that in the alt-right. The little one is still little, so we definitely laugh at his ridiculous antics.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:14 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I came away from this article thinking the entire thing is BS. This story hits every single beat of the Tragic Man Pain storybook. False accusations from evil women! An uncaring and overreaching government! Dirty SJW friends who drop him because of his lack of wokeness! All of this drives him into a depression so severe he has to move schools. Then he turns to the sinister Internet where he somehow becomes so involved with the alt-right that he gets pulled into the inner circle (despite being 13) and starts flinging out talking points. Don't fret, reader! He goes to the rally and happens to firsthand see the Lamestream Media creating a story! But he finds a kindly old white dude who sits him down and explains why both sides are wrong. Now he's gone back to being the charming young Wise Centerist he was before without a hint of impact. This reads like Breakthrough for the suburban white liberal crowd.
posted by haileris23 at 8:14 AM on May 7 [79 favorites]


As per the Teenage Pricks article above, why wouldn’t white guy teens think they should be free from all consequences of their actions? Everything in society tells them that! The existence of Brett Kavanaugh shows them that. They’re behaving exactly as society expects them to behave.
posted by The Whelk at 8:17 AM on May 7 [22 favorites]


I have to give the parents a lot of credit here. The temptation for me to ratchet down hard after my son was accused of possible/maybe not/probably sexist shit that he didn’t understand then trolling alt-right discussions then wanting to attend a Nazi rally — I mean, I’d explain and pretend to listen, but it would be super hard not to lay my parental authority hard all over that shit. Which of course, every parent here recognizes is the fast track to trouble. But the alternative is also...very likely trouble and tricky and so labor intensive. So they walked a very difficult fine line and kudos to them because it worked as well as can be expected. I guess the best thing is to raise a smart child who can ask questions and recognize a group of losers when then see them.

The school thing sounds so unfortunate. I’m guessing this was a kid who was caught up in hormones and peer pressure and zero tolerance for harassment and institutionalization and what should have been a Critical Teaching Moment was instead treated as Very Serious Violation and there’s the entire history of the US approach to corrections and discipline right there. At 13, you go from being a relatively normal kid in need of a lesson to an outcast and criminal.

Let's face it, in 2019 you're not realistically going to be able to prevent a determined teenager from accessing things online that you think they're not supposed to access.

The operative word is determined. It’s not hard to make it difficult enough that an otherwise engaged well adjusted kid is going to move on to kicking the soccer ball or playing Fortnite before they learn to circumvent the walls their parents put up around them. The weakest link is what happens at their friends’ houses when they’re operating under other parents’ rules. We have to have those discussions all the time because I’m constantly getting rather suspect reports about what so and so is allowed to do.

But it brings up the question of teaching a teen to be a critical consumer of the internet. We aren’t even at the age where my oldest is reading about politics or “ideas” on the internet yet, but he’ll rattle off facts that he’s read (example: a great white shark swims faster than a formula 1 race car) and when we question him with “that doesn’t sound right, where did you here that?” it’s just “No it’s true! You can google it!” Then it’s just a war between my google and his google and there’s no oracle of truth. I cannot even imagine what it’s going to be like when he hits the echo chamber discussion rooms.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:27 AM on May 7 [7 favorites]


I find the argument that this is a bad kid who is not empathetic enough for us to care about his life, how he got the way he is, or how it hurts him, to be perplexing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:35 AM on May 7 [24 favorites]


Am i misremembering from reading this yesterday or did the school administrators not (in her telling, anyway) apologize to the mom for possibly being too quick/harsh w her son on account of a very recent mandatory training they had received?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:36 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


The Alt-Right and ISIS recruit from the same basic pool, using the same basic strategy: find socially isolated, disaffected young men, offer them easy answers to their problems, give them a support structure, and then give them a target.

It's the same reason why Jordan Peterson talks about cleaning your room and all that sort of stuff before diving into lobsters and dominance hierarchies. It's a slow radicalization process, and you start by giving something easy and gentle before moving on to the violence and hatred.
posted by SansPoint at 8:38 AM on May 7 [28 favorites]


The principal did, yes (most likely after realizing that he was facing a potential lawsuit.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:38 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


The issues in this article are also exacerbated by the larger problem of hosting sites refusing to regulate content, claiming “free speech” as if they’re government entities rather than private companies (which also happens to keep their user numbers higher and profits flowing). As long as that’s the case, letting kids free range on sites like reddit is more comparable to letting your kid play in a toxic swamp than letting your kid roam a public library.
posted by sallybrown at 8:38 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


As the father of a young white male, this reads like a bespoke gothic horror movie, like if I had found someone through patreon to write me a story to chill me to my bones, but also asked them to tack on a hopeful endnote. I'm confident the narrative smoothed over a lot of complexity, but even if it was wholly fictional, the scenario is playing out in millions of homes all over the country everyday, and it's scary stuff.

It sounds very much to me that a big part of the appeal of alt-right memetic culture is being in on the joke rather than the butt of it, and I had never thought about how magnetic that might be to a typical 13 year old. But it's hard for me to believe that the self-evidently mean nature of all the trolling doesn't trigger more people's moral sense. Kids develop strong moral senses much earlier than their teens, that moral understanding may become more sophisticated as they age, but I think even a 13 year old is likely to understand that all that shit is fundamentally mean, and is behaving that way is shameful. Not to say kids and adults don't fail to act decently all the time, but I still don't understand how this happens.
posted by skewed at 8:46 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


This bit surprised me. Not that Jews can't have prejudices, but I would have thought we were inoculated at least against Naziism.

Have you seen right-wing Jews lately? They have collectively become the thing they claim to hate, down to calls for concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, and state-sponsored bigotry. And that's just the American ones! The Israeli PM rails against Soros, accuses the Jewish left (especially Diaspora Jews) of being traitors on a near-daily basis, and treats non-Ashkenazi Jews as undesirables and an "infestation." His adult son has a long history of associating with Nazis and other anti-Semites. Oh, and then there's these rabbis talking about how awesome Hitler is.

The problem isn't that Jews on the right aren't inoculated against fascism and anti-Semitic rhetoric, it's that they're adopting it, and the rest of us Jews (when they even consider us Jews) are among the targets.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:51 AM on May 7 [43 favorites]


Personally, one of the big mistakes the parents made was just dealing with the administration as they did. If I was in their shoes, there's no way I go to that meeting without a lawyer, if only to send to the administrative officials that no, they were not going to be getting me as an ally, and that the discussion was going to be about their abuses and how they were going to rectify them.

This is a case of "reason is for reasonable people". An administrator who acts in the manner in the story is not such, and needs to be dealt with in the language that he understands - fear.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:55 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


What I found so compelling about this is that I remember/relate to the feeling of "not being taken seriously" as a child (even though, really, I was taken seriously. I think this might come from difficulty in parsing social cues as a child.). And that also by the time my child was 15 months she was able to communicate to me the desire to be taken seriously and point out when I fall short. For example, she once said a cow roared and when I laughed and said, no it says moo, she looked absolutely crushed. It is hard not to laugh in those situations. It's not about thinking your kid is dumb; it's sometimes about delighting in how their mind works. But what I know to be true, and what this article illustrates, is that the communication gulf between parent and child is wide and it can be wide even when everyone is talking and trying.
posted by CMcG at 8:58 AM on May 7 [13 favorites]


As long as that’s the case, letting kids free range on sites like reddit is more comparable to letting your kid play in a toxic swamp than letting your kid roam a public library.

Yeah, I don't want to let myself distance myself from the author's problems by just saying "oh that would never happen if she didn't do XYZ" but letting a 13 year old spend hours on end with apparently unrestricted access reddit, youtube comment sections, and chan sites (!??!) sounds like extremely risky behavior.
posted by skewed at 9:01 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


But it's hard for me to believe that the self-evidently mean nature of all the trolling doesn't trigger more people's moral sense.

Part of the recruiting process is an inversion of morality. This is the whole point of talking about "SJWs" and "PC police" - it's meant to realign the target's moral compass.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:07 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


A number of the commenters remind me of the folks (fewer of them than used to be, thanks to cell phones) who believe that the police are always right.

The authorities are not always right, no matter how much you hate a particular sort of crime.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:08 AM on May 7 [16 favorites]


Per the article, the consequences for getting accused of sexual harassment were: Sam got sent to the vice principal's office, where he was scolded, and then he was sent to the school resource officer, who told him to write a letter of apology. He then had an enormous and tearful meltdown for the rest of the day and refused to write the letter. His parents came in for a meeting a couple days later and the administrator apologized for possibly being a hardass, but still wanted Sam to write the letter, which he eventually did ("reluctantly"). Honestly, I don't think this punishment was extraordinarily harsh. Getting scolded, sent to detention, and told to apologize is not cruel and unusual.

I have to say, if I were either a school administrator or his parent, I would be more worried about the intensity of Sam's reaction to standard school discipline than about the discipline itself. Sobbing for hours because you don't want to write a letter of apology? That's bizarre, even for an emotionally labile 13-year-old. Then, shortly afterward, all his friends stop wanting to hang out with him and he's spouting tons of delusional hate speech? Worrisome. And not in a "we should sue the school" kind of way.

Something was and probably is going on with this kid, but I don't think it's lax household rules about internet use.
posted by rue72 at 9:10 AM on May 7 [58 favorites]


Seconding what zombieflanders says about right-wing Jews. There are some amazing nutcases out there, including sect leaders in upstate NY who have ordered their staff to torch the houses of dissenters. And they're getting worse. And, like the nutcase evangelical Christians, they're all having ten children each, so there'll be more of them.

It's a big rabbit hole to go down, but it's there.
posted by sockerpup at 9:11 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


This story hits every single beat of the Tragic Man Pain storybook. False accusations from evil women! An uncaring and overreaching government! Dirty SJW friends who drop him because of his lack of wokeness! All of this drives him into a depression so severe he has to move schools. girl says they were sexually harassed, believe them, you know? 13 year old boys being sexist is not really so hard to believe. God, I was a good kid and I said some awful misogynist things at that age, really vicious.

up to maybe a year ago, I'd agree with this, but then all of it (less the hyperbolic evil and adjectives) happened pretty much point-by-point to an acquaintance (an adult), who I didn't even like particularly, so initially, I just accepted the case against him ... until it all fell apart piece by piece.

I came away from this article thinking the entire thing is BS.

This is more and more a position I'm trying not to take on situations that carry even a hint of credibility. And if you're claiming that this story lacks that hint -- I'm sorry but I'm going to have to suggest that that position carries a little too much confirmation bias for me.
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on May 7 [10 favorites]


In an ideal world the boy owns that whatever he said or did negatively impacted his classmate and makes a heartfelt apology. The administration owns their heavy-handedness in that there's no place to threaten children to engage law enforcement unless a real crime has been committed, in which case you call the police first, not to mention refusing to have a transparent conversation with the involved parents. And finally the parents own the fact they're raising an entitled asshole and transferring him to a private school at the first sign of consequences for his actions only feeds his victimhood narrative. All the adults in this story are doing a bad job at raising empathetic boys.
posted by simra at 9:15 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]




If you want to be really horrified watch this 13-ish year old boy dressed in a burka explain to you why you're a cuck.

If you want to be more horrified then know that she's a 14 year old girl and also a neo-nazi who admired the Christchurch shooter. She's been active for years and, big surprise, her older brother is believed to have radicalized her and written her early videos.

Her videos get hundreds of thousands of views.
posted by Rust Moranis at 9:20 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


Per the article, the consequences for getting accused of sexual harassment were: Sam got sent to the vice principal's office, where he was scolded, and then he was sent to the school resource officer, who told him to write a letter of apology. He then had an enormous and tearful meltdown for the rest of the day and refused to write the letter. His parents came in for a meeting a couple days later and the administrator apologized for possibly being a hardass, but still wanted Sam to write the letter, which he eventually did ("reluctantly"). Honestly, I don't think this punishment was extraordinarily harsh.

Of course it doesn't sound all that harsh when you sand off the corners, give the administration the benefit of the doubt, and call the kid a liar. Also, it wasn't the administrator who apologized for being a hardass - he even took a hardass tone with the parents. It was the principal, when he most likely realized (after the parents walked out) that he had made a major misstep and opened the door (as Eyebrows McGee explained earlier) to legal liability.

Something was and probably is going on with this kid, but I don't think it's lax household rules about internet use.

Something is indeed going on, but I don't think it is with the kid or the parents in the story.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:20 AM on May 7 [15 favorites]


if I were either a school administrator or his parent, I would be more worried about the intensity of Sam's reaction to standard school discipline than about the discipline itself. Sobbing for hours because you don't want to write a letter of apology? That's bizarre, even for an emotionally labile 13-year-old.

I have no problem accepting such an emotionally labile 13-year-old as not particularly abnormal, having been one myself. Because I certainly recall (with lingering flare ups of humiliation) a few such experiences. And I was not remotely like that when I was ten or eleven -- I was the kind of kid who almost never "lost it" anywhere but home. And, for what it's worth, I was back to relative emotional stability by the time I was fourteen-fifteen. Puberty's a monster for some kids.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


Sobbing for hours because you don't want to write a letter of apology? That's bizarre, even for an emotionally labile 13-year-old. Then, shortly afterward, all his friends stop wanting to hang out with him and he's spouting tons of delusional hate speech? Worrisome. And not in a "we should sue the school" kind of way.

People, especially young people, will break down when they find themselves trapped in a paradoxical broken system. If Sam had not said the thing of which he was accused and then was directed to write a letter of apology for the action he did not commit, it makes sense that he would break down. It's a thirteen year-old suddenly realizing that the powers that be are not just and will force him to admit something he did not do for the sake of expediency. Some kids find out that institutions are not to be trusted much sooner, but if Sam had faith that school was a fair place, that people are only held accountable for actions they commit, a Kafkaesque moment like that can shatter even adults.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:20 AM on May 7 [36 favorites]


This story hits every single beat of the Tragic Man Pain storybook.

yeah, this seemed extremely pat and self-serving to me. boy massively overreacts to mitigate consequences from shitty sexist behavior, film at fucking 11.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:22 AM on May 7 [18 favorites]


On the topic of people making harassment claims stemming from overheard conversations: in California, this is also something that can happen in the workplace. You can get sued and fired over a private conversation you were having at a lunch table, by someone sitting 2 tables behind you who happened to overhear it and feel emotionally disturbed by it. There’s no disproving emotional impact, but if you said it, you said it.

Parents need to start getting this through kids’ heads so that they don’t later lose their jobs over it: what you say in a public place is a public statement. Self-edit at all times.

It’s tricky because I could see that pushing kids into communities that accept and even encourage offensive statements. Part of adolescence is boundary-pushing and learning where the line is by crossing over it.

I’m not sure what the solution is—not ashamed to say that I’ve already self-assessed as someone ill-suited to guide another person into maturity.
posted by mantecol at 9:23 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


I'm with skewed here. This is such a nightmare scenario for people trying to raise a decent son.

I like to think because my kid's mom is an immigrant that he's immune to this bullshit, but well... look how many kids from nice Jewish families end up going hip deep in this shit.

Our kid is going to spend the summer in Romania this year. Which, okay cool. But I realize I am going to have to take him aside and give him a speech on how to politely refuse to indulge people who casually make racist, antisemitic, sexist, or homophobic jokes over there. I've tried to model this behavior when I go over there with him. (cousin: "Do you mind if I tell a racist joke?" Me: "I do." Cousin: "Oh come on, it's just a--" Me: "Do not do that. It is not okay.") But this time, he'll be there without us. It's not that our relatives over there are terrible people, mind you. It's just that what passes as progressive there is more like progressivism circa 1980 in the US.

Anyway, if I want to get the same kid back in August I am sending there in June, I realize it behooves me to spend some time setting some groundwork.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:26 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Later, it was my turn to be surprised: They all contributed to a going-away gift for Sam and mailed an emoji-themed fidget-spinner to his bunk address.
Apocryphal side note: I'm pretty sure this was not a compliment or a gift. This sounds like a message that was intended to be read something more like "Fuck off normie kid here's a dumb toy to play with".

Fidget spinners have been an object or symbol of mockery or derision of "autists" in the alt-right and chansite memesphere for like 2-3+ years now, and they definitely avoid using stock emojis for anything because that's "normie" stuff.

And other parts of this article are pinging my radar as untruth or heavily fudged. It's really pinging the shit out of my suspicion radar and I can't quite put my finger on it, or if it's more than just the This story hits every single beat of the Tragic Man Pain storybook part or not.

My intuition feels that it's practically a soft-pedal propaganda piece to say "hey, the alt-right isn't that bad, it's just a phase or a fad and all we need are hugs!" which, yeah, I wish but no.
posted by loquacious at 9:28 AM on May 7 [38 favorites]


And finally the parents own the fact they're raising an entitled asshole and transferring him to a private school at the first sign of consequences for his actions only feeds his victimhood narrative.

So, as you acknowledge, the school administration acted abusively towards the child, taking actions that if were done in a different context there would be no argument that they were abusive - and the parents seeking to move their child to a new environment to avoid that abuse is "feeding entitlement"? This doesn't line up. Trying to stop sexual harassment does not mean letting administrators be abusive to children, because it's abuse.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:30 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment.

This by itself: If you are sitting at the same table, you are not *overhearing* a *private conversation* between two other people at the table. A 13-year-old is old enough to know this, but a parent should definitely not have problems with that concept. It gets framed as a false accusation, but it isn't false at all. He said the thing and then didn't want her to have construed it as a problem that he said it, because in his head the thing he said to his friend shouldn't have had consequences because it wasn't about anybody but them.

Except... that's not how life works. It is not weird that a 13-year-old struggles with this concept--kids that age are still learning not to be monsters, in a lot of ways. It is a problem that the 13-year-old's parents see this as a sort of false accusation of harassment, rather than a sign that their child had problems with boundaries related to talking about "suggestive" things around female classmates. (Or any classmates, really.) I don't see why there's any reason to think that she invented that she was uncomfortable about it. This wasn't fake, even by his account of what he did.

That the parents are so quick to defend that this was a misunderstanding versus a thing he clearly should have had this opportunity to learn not to do... says a lot, to me, about how he got there. I think they mean well and possibly the administrators were also terrible about this, but Jesus Christ, yes, your kid needs to learn that it is not okay to make sexual jokes around people who you aren't 100% sure will be fine with the joke.
posted by Sequence at 9:31 AM on May 7 [45 favorites]


filthy light thief: Luckily, our older kid is big on science, so I don't think there's much of that in the alt-right.

James Damore got a couple of biology papers published, and lots of women have talked about the prejudice they've faced in science, so don't be too sure that your kid won't get the same bad ideas in a more respectable package.
posted by clawsoon at 9:44 AM on May 7 [15 favorites]


It gets framed as a false accusation, but it isn't false at all.

Speak for yourself - I haven't framed it as a false accusation at all. What I've pointed out is that the administration's behavior as reported was abusive, unacceptable, and very likely opened the school to legal liability. And it's rather disheartening how many of you want to give the school the benefit of the doubt in order to paint the kid at the center of the story as entitled.

As presented here, the school fucked up, massively. What could have been an effective lesson on what sexual harassment actually means and resolving the harm done was destroyed by an out of control administrator acting disproportionally. (And even if he did have clear evidence of the matter being worse than described, things like concealing the evidence does not paint a good light.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:45 AM on May 7 [14 favorites]


"I find the argument that this is a bad kid who is not empathetic enough for us to care about his life, how he got the way he is, or how it hurts him, to be perplexing."

I know certain groups also find this perplexing and use exactly this sort of attitude to fuel their hateful ideologies. Find someone who feels they aren't taken seriously, start feeding them a narrative where everything is against them and before you know it you got a gamergator soldier. Being online magnifies everything and nobody knows who you are so they naturally assume you're like them. I grew up with the internet too, but it was different. We made 9/11 jokes on 9/11, we didn't have our lives ruined about it, we were never dragged through social media coals, we weren't subject to the impassive grinding gears we never felt attacked and needed to retreat to safe troll spaces where we increased our exposure to awful ideologies and we managed to learn where the boundaries for humor are and why without becoming pariahs. I do not envy parents of today, I thought the web I grew up with was rough, seeing the goatseman and tubgirl and company have nothing on the psychic nastiness of today.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:45 AM on May 7 [7 favorites]


GoblinHoney: Completely agreed. There weren't any 9/11 jokes on the day in my circles, but I'm eternally grateful that my era of being a shitty teenager on the Internet was pre-social media, and especially pre-4chan. Instead, in our IRC chatroom, we just turned on each other.
posted by SansPoint at 9:47 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Speak for yourself - I haven't framed it as a false accusation at all.

I think Sequence meant the article and the parents framed it like that?
posted by poffin boffin at 9:53 AM on May 7 [7 favorites]


Parents need to start getting this through kids’ heads so that they don’t later lose their jobs over it: what you say in a public place is a public statement.

This is parallel to the attitude the parents in this piece displayed and has the same issues—I have trouble articulating this but raising a kid this way focuses on his image/consequences rather than the underlying beliefs. It reminds me of a friend who was dating an asshole and who kept telling all of us the bad things he did only to take him back later; she then said “I learned my lesson, I should never have told you guys what he did because now you can’t have a neutral attitude about him.” But the lesson should not be to avoid those consequences—it should be to stop the underlying behavior that causes those consequences.

Both things can be true—two 13 year old kids had an inside joke related to some sex act meme that majorly bothered their classmate, and that the school acted totally inappropriately in resolving the situation. But the parents have to deal with the kid’s issue too, not just the school’s.
posted by sallybrown at 10:03 AM on May 7 [24 favorites]


it is actually a civil rights violation for a student at a public school who is being subjected to suspension or expulsion,

At the time it was a public school, but that might also explain how when I pushed back they were willing to disappear the record of the suspension. I suspect this may be more widespread than is realized.
posted by corb at 10:04 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


rue72: Actually, his teachers took him VERY seriously, that's what that whole disciplinary brouhaha was about -- taking what he had said/done seriously.

There's the other sense of "taking someone seriously": The way that a king has to take a powerful baron more seriously than a weak one. No matter how bullshit his opinions are, you have to take them into account because he has power and privilege.

Based on how quickly this family flipped their child into a private school - no mention of months of agonizing about the financial cost - it seems likely that he'll end up with some measure of power and privilege when he grows up. People will take his opinions seriously because of his power, not because of the quality of his ideas. In some ways it's a good thing for all of us that his parents were able to help him through this early lesson in detecting and rejecting bullshit.
posted by clawsoon at 10:04 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I read this during a slight bout of insomnia last night and as a childless adult I guess I came away from the story less that it's a pat story or that the adults should have done something differently, but just another example of how hard it is to raise children in a world where the community is the nuclear family. That there were breadcrumbs for this kid to find his way out of this 4chan maze mattered little except that he managed to look up and around at just the right time. Kids today have so much time on their hands AND the internet, and I'm befuddled how these parents had time to keep up with debunking the propaganda this kid had. I watch my brother make all kinds of bad decisions about how to "be present" with his 7-year-old daughter because he and his wife are overworked, and I have little faith I could do better. I'm impressed that the author pulled this off, but you can see several places in the story where the kid could have come away with a very different takeaway.

I'm also grappling with this story in light of news this weekend that a cousin I grew up with was killed in a traffic collision. He was an addict and we had mostly shunned him from the family, but he had teenage challenges and chose drugs long before his single mother family or anyone else knew he was choosing them. And then it was too late and there wasn't good literature on how to manage an adolescent relationship of someone who has a self-destructive medical condition. Just shunning or enabling, all of us in the thrall of ideologies that have little to do with how humans relate to each other.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 10:04 AM on May 7 [12 favorites]


So, as you acknowledge, the school administration acted abusively towards the child, taking actions that if were done in a different context there would be no argument that they were abusive - and the parents seeking to move their child to a new environment to avoid that abuse is "feeding entitlement"? This doesn't line up.

The administration behaved badly and if there were evidence of systemic and repeated actions like these there would be a case to call it abusive. Picking up and running off to private school is an incredibly privileged response and there is a lot of room in the middle to engage with the administration about what is and isn't an appropriate response to children's bad behavior.

And yes I agree with the assessment that the boy was likely traumatized by the experience and that has to be addressed constructively. I don't think he achieves closure by exiting the situation without seeking some reconciliation first.

BUT our opinions on this story are all largely based on speculation and our between-the-lines reading of the parent's account of the situation. So my take on this is not worth a whole lot other than to just be judgy. :-/
posted by simra at 10:07 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


... and for tutorials on ways to bypass filters and blocks...

I've said it a thousand times, no internet-connected devices allowed in children's bedrooms or private areas...

It's far more difficult to surf toxic crap, porn or even chat with internet rando's when the computers are in a common area and everyone can chime in with their opinions about said material.

Yes, they might get around it by visiting a friend's house - or when out, on their phone - but this won't be the same level as being able to be immersed in it for "n" hours per day... And if the device is in the bedroom, are you actually checking to see exactly when it is on or off? All night long?

Doubtful - if I could figure out how to read a book after my official bedtime when I was a kid, using a flashlight and carefully listening for parental footsteps to shut it off and pretend to sleep, I am pretty sure today's kids are even craftier.
posted by jkaczor at 10:09 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I think Sequence meant the article and the parents framed it like that?

Except that the argument then becomes "well, the kid should have taken the 'punishment' (and the parents should have supported the school) because he needs to learn that actions have consequences."

Let's actually go over what the school response was as reported:
One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment. Sam’s guidance counselor pulled him out of his next class and accused him of “breaking the law.” Before long, he was in the office of a male administrator who informed him that the exchange was “illegal,” hinted that the police were coming, and delivered him into the custody of the school’s resource officer. At the administrator’s instruction, that man ushered Sam into an empty room, handed him a blank sheet of paper, and instructed him to write a “statement of guilt.”

No one called me as this unfolded, even though Sam cried for about six hours straight as staff members parked him in vacant offices to keep him away from other students. When he stepped off the bus that afternoon and I asked why his eyes were so swollen, he informed me that he would probably be suspended, but possibly also expelled and arrested.

If Kafka were a middle-schooler today, this is the nightmare novel he would have written.

At a meeting two days later with my husband, Sam, and me, the administrator piled more accusations on top of the harassment charge—even implying, with undisguised hostility, that Sam and his friend were gay. He waved in front of us a statement from the girl at the table and insisted that Sam would need to defend himself against her claims if he wanted to prove his innocence. But the administrator refused to reveal the particulars of the complaint (he had also blacked out identifying details, FBI-style) and then hid the paperwork under a book. He declared that it was his primary duty, as a school official and as a father of daughters, to believe and to protect the girls under his care.

In an out-of-body moment, I imagined that this very episode would be cited by some future cultural critic on the limits of liberalism, or perhaps we’d show up in a sociology dissertation about the collision of childhood and technology. Except, coming back to reality, I realized there was nothing theoretical about this. Our son sat pale and trembling as he made his case. I wanted to reach out and hold his hand, but he was at the other end of the large conference table—a raft, it seemed to me, floating unprotected in a stormy sea.

The meeting didn’t go well. My husband walked out after the administrator parsed a line in the county’s code for student conduct in a particularly absurd way, and Sam and I soon followed. Later, from the principal, we learned that school staff had just completed a mandatory training on spotting sexual assault—and the principal acknowledged that perhaps the stress of finishing that course had caused colleagues to overreact.
Let's start by stating that the girl did not lie, and made an honest complaint of sexual harassment. In response, the administration:

* pulled him from class asserting publicly that he had "broken the law",
* had an administrator tell him his statement was 'illegal' and implied that the police were on the way to punish him criminally,
* handed him over to the school resource officer (who, let me point out, is likely a uniformed cop) as part of this,
* placed him in an empty classroom and demanded he write a 'statement of guilt' (i.e. a confession),
* shuffled him from room to room in order to isolate him,
* refused, while they were doing this, contact his parents (this is a massive red flag),
* had the kid sat away from his parents during the meeting two days later,
* took a hard line tone with the parents as well,
* made disparaging references to the kid's sexual orientation,
* concealed information about the complaint from the parents,
* tried to rules lawyer the student code when it became clear that the meeting was going south, and
* finally tried to justify the behavior as overreaction once it became clear that the administration had lost the parents.

None of that was acceptable.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:09 AM on May 7 [38 favorites]


uh. i didn't say it was. yikes.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:14 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


There are some claims here that kids shouldn't have online privacy from their parents. However, it's observable that kids use online privacy to find their way out of abuse as well as into it.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:16 AM on May 7 [15 favorites]


We also don't know how much of that is correctly reported by the kid. I believe it could be true but we don't know for sure.
posted by agregoli at 10:16 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


Shoutout to all of the parents doing their best in the darkest timeline that is 2019.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:22 AM on May 7 [35 favorites]


We also don't know how much of that is correctly reported by the kid. I believe it could be true but we don't know for sure.

This is fundamentally arguing that the kid is a liar. Not to mention that his reporting was backed up by the conduct of the administrator at the meeting with his parents.

Picking up and running off to private school is an incredibly privileged response and there is a lot of room in the middle to engage with the administration about what is and isn't an appropriate response to children's bad behavior.

As I said before, "reason is for the reasonable." When you have an administrator claiming legal threats and acting like the matter is of criminal import, they have ceased being reasonable. Again, my response would be "if he wants to treat this legalistically, we can do that" - and make sure that the meeting involves legal counsel.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:23 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


[Friendly reminder, please don't make this about other people in the thread. It's fine to feel strongly about the article and explain why; it's not fine to go after other people as if they're The Problem.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:23 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


however, it's observable that kids use online privacy to find their way out of abuse as well as into it

Yeah, there is that - sometimes easy to forget that the internet can also be helpful and supportive and not just a cesspool of crap. Myself, I have directed many people to "/r/raisedbynarcissists" over the years, one Reddit community that actually doesn't seem to be toxic.
posted by jkaczor at 10:23 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


In the early 1990s, I was a lot like Sam, the kid in the article. In middle school, I started going to a fancy private school in Washington, DC which was a stretch financially for my middle-class parents, who I lived with in the exurbs in a shitty tract house an hour from downtown. My classmates mostly came from wealthy families, lived in big houses in Northwest DC and went to Colorado for weekend ski trips. I couldn't relate to them nor they to me, and I had no real friends at school and few friends at home. I spent my weeknights calling BBSes, and a bit later, using IRC on the emerging public Internet. This was all completely unmonitored as my parents understood none of it and, even if they had, lacked the energy to redirect me towards other more worthwhile pursuits. There were no online communities around to radicalize lonely kids into right-wing movements at that time. Instead I got into silliness including script-kiddie-style hacking and phone phreaking. I also developed a retrospectively very weird preoccupation with Scientology in early high school after stumbling upon some groups of Scientology dissidents which were already well-established on the Internet at that time. I later parlayed my self-taught hacking skills into a first career, and used my exhaustive Scientology knowlege to score an A+ in a sociology course on New Religious Movements in college, followed by a years-long collaboration with the class's professor, so I guess I got some value from all of my early online knocking about, but I still think I would have been better off doing other more constructive and social things in early adolescence.
posted by killdevil at 10:32 AM on May 7 [10 favorites]


But the lesson should not be to avoid those consequences—it should be to stop the underlying behavior that causes those consequences.

I agree in principle, but two things:

1) Kids (and adults) need clear rules. At least as far as I can tell. Regulating the mental and emotional realm is a difficult task and a rights violation (“thought crimes”) whereas regulating actions leaves very little up to debate.

2) If the lesson gets taught early and gradually, it shouldn’t come as a shock. The basic idea is: your mind is a safe space where you are able to think and unthink thoughts without much consequence. But as soon as you put actions into the world, they are also subject to other people’s interpretations, may cause real hurt even if you didn’t intend it, and there is no way to take them back. Hence the importance of empathy and genuine apology.

Note: the internet may seem more like an extension of the mind than an extension of the real world, but it is real the real world. Another lesson that would be good to teach early.

What is hopefully surmised from this lesson over time is that the best way to self-regulate is to have an internal world that is consistent with how you want to behave externally.
posted by mantecol at 10:35 AM on May 7 [10 favorites]


blocking a 14 year old from regular access to the chans and vile subreddits on the home network, personal laptop and phone would be trivial, like, an hour's work.

Maybe I should post an Ask about this, but can someone point to a primer on how one can do this at a domain and subdomain level? I get how to use Safe Search features and other out of the box tools, but actively editing the settings on my router is beyond my scope.
posted by slogger at 10:35 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


When I started reading the article I was terrified. this kid sounds so much like my 13 year old nephew - an edgy liberal who is really empathetic and fights for the underdog (he was suspended once for hitting a student for using a racial slur against another student whom my nephew didn't even know). Their squad has both gay and trans people, but also they watch south park sometimes and he spends a lot of time gaming.

But the more I read the article the less scared I got. What was this mother thinking? She sounds so laissez-faire. She and her husband begged or bargained with their son for him to tag along on errands? There were times when I didn't have the choice as a child, and to me that's normal. They continued to allow him to use reddit? Hell, they even left the computer in his room? She thought meeting in-person with these ADULT nazis might turn out okay? They're seeing "vile" shit on his phone and chalking it up to "too old to understand". This kid is literally dropping tips on how to respond if the FBI shows up because he got doxxed and they're waffling on what to do.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:36 AM on May 7 [32 favorites]


blocking a 14 year old from regular access to the chans and vile subreddits on the home network, personal laptop and phone would be trivial, like, an hour's work

Yeah, no. Almost by definition, your 14-year-old knows more than you do about computers and home networking, and also has much more discretionary time than you do. I would have taken that as a personal challenge when I was 14.
posted by killdevil at 10:37 AM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Just the other day I saw some 14 year old girls talking about how they spoof their MAC address to bypass the curfew on their routers. Any parent who thinks their network blocks are effective against a teenager is living in a dream world.
posted by Jairus at 10:41 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


I would have taken that as a personal challenge when I was 14.

I, at least, would've gone to certain friends places more often
posted by philip-random at 10:43 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Except that the argument then becomes "well, the kid should have taken the 'punishment' (and the parents should have supported the school) because he needs to learn that actions have consequences."

Did I or did I not specifically note that I wasn't addressing whether the administrator response was acceptable or not? Because I wasn't, and no, this isn't the argument. The argument is that the parents needed, themselves, to accept that their kid already had problems with his understanding of acceptable behavior and boundaries and empathy. But they haven't. That makes me slightly skeptical of what they say the administrators did, I admit, but if it did happen that way, it was certainly a sign of how broken school discipline is, sure. That doesn't actually matter.

The whole setup for this is that he was okay before the administrators did this... but he wasn't. He wasn't "wrongly accused"--his mother's own words. The kid who he was that morning in first period already had the empathy failure, when he thought he should be able to tell any joke he wanted, in a classroom, even if it made his peers uncomfortable. The parents only recognize, even now, that it gone wrong when he started talking about Trump and feminazis. If anybody wants to take lessons out of this, I think it's important to recognize that "they were just joking around and she shouldn't have been uncomfortable and/or she shouldn't have been entitled to feel comfortable in a classroom" is itself the foundation the alt right is built on.
posted by Sequence at 10:56 AM on May 7 [23 favorites]


She thought meeting in-person with these ADULT nazis might turn out okay?

Actually, it did turn out okay. She chaperoned him and made sure he stayed safe, the kid saw the disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality of the movement and repudiated everything on his own after about a year or so.

In a sense I'd say the outcome validates the author's respectful engagement with her son during the crisis period. Shutting down his access would have likely only made things worse.
posted by killdevil at 11:00 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


Actually, it did turn out okay. She chaperoned him and made sure he stayed safe, the kid saw the disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality of the movement and repudiated everything on his own after about a year or so.

I'm glad this turned out okay but taking your enthusiastic teenager to see a Nazi march is not good stewardship.
posted by Jairus at 11:03 AM on May 7 [30 favorites]


I read all the comments here before I read the article, and expected to have a different response than I do...

So staff were all fired up, having *just* attended a workshop on I guess sexism, and the administrator came out like a prison guard (or something) from Scared Straight, demanding a “statement of guilt”... this is an abuse of authority in the worst case, failed pedagogy at best, and I can totally see how the kid felt betrayed and misunderstood in an unfair system.

My brother (a year younger than me) had undiagnosed ADHD as a teen (still does but obviously now he knows it). I didn’t have the same problems. One day, he told me he was stressed about an assignment, and talked about how stupid he must be to struggle so much. I said, “screw that, we’re going to get you through this”. I didn’t do his work for him, I just sat with him and asked him questions to guide him through his thought process. We edited it together. He did a fantastic job - too good of a job for his teacher to believe he could have produced work of that caliber. She accused him of plagiarism. There was a meeting with the principal, my brother, and my mom (who’s from a country where you absolutely never question authorities), and everyone agreed that he had to have cheated. No way, they said, was he capable of writing the assignment he handed in. He ran out of there in tears, raging and devastated - I know it marked him for life in ways he (and I) probably still can’t appreciate.

If instead of coming out guns blazing, my brother’s principal had *asked some questions*, I’m sure my brother would have had an easier time at that school (and others). I’m sure his idea of himself as a “stupid” person wouldn’t have been such a pernicious bug to kill.

Imagine if instead of playing prison guard, the administrator in TA had role-played with the kid, asked some questions about where the meme came from, *had a conversation* with him? An apology, after an attempt to get him to understand why even sharing a meme can be hurtful, would have been appropriate - and maybe then, sincere. This “statement of guilt” crap, that’s an adult with some entitlement issues of his own making a fucking mess. (And IMO there are *way* too many educators like that. Something about that field attracts people who enjoy wielding power over vulnerable people [among others].)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:10 AM on May 7 [38 favorites]


if we're gonna drill down into aspects of this story that we have no way of knowing the truth of, I'll just put it out there that I'd be real interested to hear the girl in first period's take on the meme incident, how the administration dealt with her, and what the aftermath of all this was for her.

on the other hand, loquacious has all but convinced me the entire story is fiction.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:15 AM on May 7 [19 favorites]


If you don't think a 13 year old kid, facing possibly strange and unexpected consequences from school administrators, for something he didn't expect to get in trouble for, wouldn't possibly misrepresent or yes, even lie to his parents about what those admins said...then I don't know what to say. We don't know for sure what they said to him. Also...6 hours of questioning? He was kept to 5 or 6 pm for this? Doesn't school let out earlier than that? If they did do that, it is indeed insane, and I'm inclined to believe this school is nuts, but I don't trust entirely this kid's account.
posted by agregoli at 11:19 AM on May 7 [18 favorites]


The whole setup for this is that he was okay before the administrators did this... but he wasn't.

This.

People lie. To each other. To themselves. To strangers. It is not a weird aberration that morally stains someone, it is a simple truth about the human condition. I do not tell everyone I meet every uncomfortable truth because it wouldn't actually help any of us.

I assume the boy lied about his interaction in the school because the administration was overbearing. Scare a kid - good kid, bad kid, any kid - and you will get the most self-serving version of events from them. This is not theory. I may not be a parent, but I'm an uncle and I see it whenever I check. I used to do that too. Teenagers regulate emotions poorly, and those include fear and shame. Kids are way more likely to lie when people come down on them like a ton of bricks.

I do not believe that this was innocent. I do not believe it was his first time, either. I bear some responsibility toward a young white man who is adjacent to these circles, and... no. No sale on that.

The mom also has many incentives to believe a skewed narrative here, because it absolves her of responsibility: 'it was nothing to do with my family, it was the school.' Moreover, this having one simple, brute force cause makes it easier to imagine her boy is out of danger now. I don't really believe that either.

I don't think the school helped. At all. But there's a lot in the article that makes me question her understanding and reporting of this.

Upon preview:
on the other hand, loquacious has all but convinced me the entire story is fiction.

I'm not quite there, but I can see it from here.
posted by mordax at 11:21 AM on May 7 [23 favorites]


Yeah, no. Almost by definition, your 14-year-old knows more than you do about computers and home networking, and also has much more discretionary time than you do. I would have taken that as a personal challenge when I was 14.

and

I, at least, would've gone to certain friends places more often

And others on internet security for youth:

10 to 20 year old me was doing stuff like "borrowing" the neighbors' phone lines late at night with a length of twisted pair and some alligator clips to dial BBSes.

I also took my portable CP/M laptop with built in modem to school and to malls and borrowed phone lines there simply by knowing where the punch down boards and open phone ports were and how to dial an outside line with an AT command string.

And 10 to 20 year old me did not live in a world with ubiquitous internet-connected computers *and* browsers basically everywhere. In phones, in watches, on game consoles, in freakin' toasters, with free WiFi everywhere.

You could lock down everything you own and then what, you're going to tell them they can't study at the library?

Kids today have ready access to advanced network sniffers and debugging tools. Spoofing a MAC or using a VPN today is, well, child's play.
posted by loquacious at 11:27 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


I’m not sure “is the kid lying about the school incident?” is the best question to ask about this story. I do understand that it matters if he is lying, because that weakens the causal claim the mother wants to make and also suggests that there may have been problems with his character that could then explain the turn he took. But it’s a bit of dead end all the same, I think, partly because we have no access to the evidence—everyone is going to fill in competing accounts of what they find plausible and there is nowhere to go from there—and partly because, in the case of a kid aged 13, the question of who is to blame for his initial engagement with the far-right is less important than the question of how that engagement became practically possible. Many 13 year olds are awful. Many outgrow awfulness. This thing that instead feeds and escalates their awfulness, until it hardens into an identity, is what I find scariest here—especially given how easily this story could have missed its happy ending. I am much more interested in who is making money out of facilitating these exploitative communities, and what regulatory and other means there might be of shutting them down or weakening their access to kids, than in the ultimately unanswerable question of whether this particular kid was innocent, monstrous, badly-parented, or some combination of all three.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:31 AM on May 7 [22 favorites]


If anybody wants to take lessons out of this, I think it's important to recognize that "they were just joking around and she shouldn't have been uncomfortable and/or she shouldn't have been entitled to feel comfortable in a classroom" is itself the foundation the alt right is built on.

And I think that another foundation that the alt-right is built on is alienation, and nothing alienates people like finding out that authorities that they trusted can be petty, vindictive, and cruel. You want him to learn empathy, but don't care that the school destroyed the trust that is necessary to build that lesson on. Those positions are mutually exclusive.

People lie. To each other. To themselves. To strangers. It is not a weird aberration that morally stains someone, it is a simple truth about the human condition. I do not tell everyone I meet every uncomfortable truth because it wouldn't actually help any of us.

This is the exact sort of argument that the alt-right used to recruit him. Perhaps we should take a pause when we find ourselves reaching for their language.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:35 AM on May 7 [12 favorites]


She thought meeting in-person with these ADULT nazis might turn out okay?


Actually, it did turn out okay. She chaperoned him and made sure he stayed safe, the kid saw the disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality of the movement and repudiated everything on his own after about a year or so.

In a sense I'd say the outcome validates the author's respectful engagement with her son during the crisis period. Shutting down his access would have likely only made things worse.
posted by killdevil at 2:00 PM on May 7 [3 favorites +] [!]


No, you've misread. I'm referring to the sub-reddit only Meetup the kid was going to go to but opted out of because they planned on smoking marijuana, which is very different thing than a large public protest in a public space.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:40 AM on May 7 [4 favorites]


You could lock down everything you own and then what, you're going to tell them they can't study at the library?

Kids today have ready access to advanced network sniffers and debugging tools. Spoofing a MAC or using a VPN today is, well, child's play.


The point isn't to bar them from the internet, which is of course not possible, but to send them the message that some sites and activities are wrong. Some "news" are not real, racism is bad, people on the internet lie about all sorts of things, including their identity. When a kid is as young as 13, you can still reach them. When they are 15, it's too late. Don't let them get to 15 without a conversation.
I check my girl's tablet and see what sites she has visited, and I take it from her, and hand her my iPad where all that stuff has been blocked. When she goes back to her dad, I know I'll have to hand back the tablet, and I know that he won't block those sites on the tablet even as I beg him to do it. But while she was at my house, she realized she can have fun on age-appropriate sites, and we've had discussions about the things she sees on the internet and the people she interacts with out there.
The parents in the article failed to monitor their kid till it was way too late, and waited very long till they eventually discussed the stuff he was doing with him. It's telling that it seems to have worked when they finally get into the game, so to speak.
posted by mumimor at 11:41 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I wish the author took the whole first third of the story and turned it into "my 13 year old son had some problems at school and a falling out with friends that was followed by a period of depression, feelings of persecution, isolation and mistrust of authority. He sought solace in online communities--here's what happened with that:"
posted by skewed at 11:41 AM on May 7 [11 favorites]


Underlying this article is the assumption that since the author raised her son to be empathetic, he should have been immune to alt-right fuckery, which is a dangerously naive belief. Very common, though.

I sincerely believe that most white middle-class parents don’t want their kids to be racist assholes but they don’t know how to teach that concept. They think that teaching kids “racism is bad” and “treat people the same” is all you have to do. Which is not only incomplete, it is wrong.

When my oldest said, quite sincerely, that all lives should matter about a year ago, I knew in that moment that we hadn’t had enough conversations about the privileged life he lives. We had a good conversation about how, yes, all lives matter but sometimes we need a reminder that we don’t treat all people fairly. I try to be better about pointing out prejudice and racism in the larger culture. We watch the videos produced by Innuendo Studios and discuss them together. When we went to Washington DC this spring, we visited Monticello and discussed how Jefferson’s actions fell far short of his rhetoric. We visited the Museum of the American Indian and the Holocaust Museum. Most importantly, we talked about what we saw and how history connects to the present.

I try to teach him that being a “good person” isn’t defined by how you feel about yourself but rather by what you do to others. The alt-right pushes their shittiness onto everyone else — their narrative is you’re a good person being pulled down by undeserving others. That is a tempting narrative because it requires very little insight or work on your part.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 11:46 AM on May 7 [25 favorites]


We have been struggling with similar issues with our 17-year old son. I have been trying to think how we lost control of his ideology: his being on the spectrum, which limits his tolerance for social interaction; my illness, which has kept me mostly home bound and not organizing family activities; the increasingly toxic internet culture, which I didn’t understand when we set online guidelines 5 years ago. I have tried to have conversations with him about my concerns, and about humor not being an acceptable excuse for engaging with this type of discourse, but I’ve never had less credibility with him than I do now. I’m overwhelmed with despair, and yet I love him so much and think he’s an amazing person.

I had thought about asking Askme about what might help, but the judgements in this thread has shown me this site is clearly not a place to do so.
posted by bibliowench at 11:49 AM on May 7 [32 favorites]


The point isn't to bar them from the internet, which is of course not possible, but to send them the message that some sites and activities are wrong.

I agree whole-heartedly. I know the kid wanted to be treated like an adult, but..he's not. Some opinions are wrong, and it's a parent's job to make sure the 8th grader knows this. Allowing him to continue unrestrained into nazi territory validates that position. thats...kind of the alt-right's thing. that's definitely one of the underlying causes of trump's win. Free speech and "both sides" is, frankly, bullshit. The fact that the mother treated all information as valid is part of the kid's problem here.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:51 AM on May 7 [10 favorites]


I had thought about asking Askme about what might help, but the judgements in this thread has shown me this site is clearly not a place to do so.

bibliowench, don't despair. I mentioned my brother up above somewhere, and he is doing fine now. My mother is a flawed person in many ways, and she was weak during my brothers teen years, for different reasons than yours. But she has strong humanitarian values, and when my brother met people who echoed those values in adulthood, he decided for the good. You don't have to be perfect as a parent. You've done the best you could, and you still are doing what you can. Keep going. It'll probably be fine.
posted by mumimor at 11:57 AM on May 7 [10 favorites]


When a kid is as young as 13, you can still reach them. When they are 15, it's too late. Don't let them get to 15 without a conversation.

years ago I read something along the lines of a kid's greatest influence being their family until about age ten at which point it became about fifty-fifty family vs peers, with peer influence only increasing as they approached and then moved into their teens.

Which isn't to say that you can't "reach" kids past age ten or twelve or whatever, but that you are swimming more and more against the current. And I personally view this as feature as much as bug. Because we do need to figure out how to live and function in the world, not just our family environs.
posted by philip-random at 12:02 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]


The point isn't to bar them from the internet, which is of course not possible, but to send them the message that some sites and activities are wrong.

Oh, absolutely! All on board with this and this should be the presumed alternative considering that I'm suggesting that locking down the internet (or sphere of ideas) is even feasible. I am not saying "kids will be kids and you can't do anything about it at all."

I'm just talking about and acknowledging how difficult it would be to actually try to keep kids today from the internet and how much harder of a job it would be. Back then I had to go pretty far out of my way to get access to a BBS and it was definitely a fringe thing, and, in hindsight, pretty full of dark bullshit even back then.

I was given tools of discernment rather than censorship. I read Mein Kampf when I was probably 10-12, but I was also reading The Screwtape Letters, Black Like Me, The Other America and even The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in the same years.

Mein Kampf lost, and it lost hard.

Granted I'm probably pretty empathic and I've always rooted for the underdogs and underprivileged even before I knew what that really was.

I vividly remember my first exposure to Nazism. I was maybe 5-7ish. I'm playing on the playground with some neighborhood kid I didn't know, and he says "I'm going to draw a Nazi symbol!" and draws said swastika in the sand.

What my naive kid ears heard was "knots, see?" and so I said I was going to some knots too - cue mom going "WHAT!" and standing up right about now - and so I scribbled a weird random knot over the swastika, thinking we were playing a game with knots.

Kid got super mad and threw sand at me and I think called me a name, mom was now suddenly there and mad, maybe even more mad because she briefly suspected I was trying to keep the swastika a secret and dragging me away from said kid and me in the middle of it super confused about everything going on.

We had a talk later about WW2 and the Holocaust and it was clear and honest. I think I was encouraged to read the Diary of Anne Frank pretty early on. I also remember getting a laugh and a hug when I was able to articulate that I thought he was talking about knots and I was just like "That's not a knot, see?"
posted by loquacious at 12:17 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]


bibliowench: I’m overwhelmed with despair, and yet I love him so much and think he’s an amazing person. I had thought about asking Askme about what might help, but the judgements in this thread has shown me this site is clearly not a place to do so.

I'm so sorry, bibliowench. I think sometimes we're so loudly confident about our parenting practises because we have no idea what we're doing, we're scared, and we're trying to convince ourselves that it's all under control and we're doing it right.

We really want to maintain the illusions of control and competence. Someone was talking the other day about how bomber crews would convince themselves that skill mattered when it came to who got shot down. The surviving flight crews would scorn the skills of those who died - must've been something they did wrong - even though it was pretty much random. Parenting is like that sometimes.

What if Milo His-Self had shown up at the rally they took the boy too, being all charismatic and Owning the Libs left and right? What if the parents had no answers for his brilliant bullshit, and the boy went home convinced that the normies were, in fact, losers? Maybe this story would've ended differently.

But what can we do other than keep on trying for the people we love?
posted by clawsoon at 12:25 PM on May 7 [17 favorites]


This recent Snap Judgement podcast episode is worth a listen if you want to hear a story with some interesting parallels, at least to the beginning of the OP's essay. It's also about school officials reacting badly to an overheard remark (in this case the kid seems to be a genuinely nice young guy into guns and weapons, like his dad, and also is on the spectrum). The reporter who tells the story has amazing access to the family involved and lots of the audio is the kid and his parents in their living room/kitchen table talking about what's going on with the school, etc. as they are trying to figure this stuff out in real time over the several weeks it takes to 'resolve'.
posted by soy bean at 12:32 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


I think sometimes we're so loudly confident about our parenting practises because we have no idea what we're doing, we're scared, and we're trying to convince ourselves that it's all under control and we're doing it right.

This is, in two senses, why I generally avoided baby books. One, I assumed that’s the engine driving most of the writing; two, I suffer from the same impulse not to be wrong...

I don’t have any good answers here, but I appreciated the article.
posted by eirias at 12:32 PM on May 7


This recent Snap Judgement podcast episode is worth a listen if you want to hear a story with some interesting parallels, at least to the beginning of the OP's essay. It's also about school officials reacting badly to an overheard remark (in this case the kid seems to be a genuinely nice young guy into guns and weapons, like his dad, and also is on the spectrum).

I remember reading the article when it came out and being disgusted and disheartened - it's one of the reasons why I had no issue believing the kid's account here - you get administrators who are so scared of liability that they paradoxically open themselves up to it by aggressively acting.

And yes, his parents needed to be better about teaching him empathy and understanding the harm language can do. But I also think that the school's reaction - both to him and his parents - alienated him and made him much more succeptable to recruitment by the alt-right,as well as closing the door on developing empathy in him.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:08 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I do understand that it matters if he is lying, because that weakens the causal claim the mother wants to make and also suggests that there may have been problems with his character that could then explain the turn he took.

This is why for me it's like: It doesn't matter if he lied! If he was completely honest about literally everything that happened, he was still doing something wrong. I don't need to try to pick everything apart and see if he was lying, because his best version of his behavior was unacceptable for a classroom and lacked empathy for his peers. I wouldn't necessarily call those things "problems with his character" at thirteen, but I do think they warranted intervention that they clearly didn't get.
posted by Sequence at 1:10 PM on May 7 [8 favorites]


loquacious: My intuition feels that it's practically a soft-pedal propaganda piece to say "hey, the alt-right isn't that bad, it's just a phase or a fad and all we need are hugs!" which, yeah, I wish but no.

Boy, I got the same feeling from this piece. An example of alt-right thinking is:

“Feminists keep divorced dads from seeing their kids” was a favorite

Really? Teenage kids care about that? Anyways what is her take?

I’d never in my life backed the “masculinist” cause or imagined that men needed protecting—yet I couldn’t help but agree with Sam’s analysis.

Aww, the alt-right is just out for gender equality, you guys. Anyways, let's end this piece:

That’s why my fears came roaring back when Sam and I heard on the radio one day that another Mother of All Rallies was taking place on the Mall that very weekend—and Sam asked if we could go. Together.

My breath caught. He must have seen my face change.

“As counterprotesters?” he asked, eyes gleaming.

I imagine a high-five followed by a freeze-frame just like any other sitcom script. Warm feelings all around. We didn't have to delve into ugly sexism or racism or what this kid really believed. This is an afternoon TV special.
posted by vacapinta at 1:10 PM on May 7 [30 favorites]


I wouldn't necessarily call those things "problems with his character" at thirteen, but I do think they warranted intervention that they clearly didn't get.

Intervention that they didn't get because the school well and thoroughly shat the bed on that. This is why the argument that the school's actions don't matter doesn't hold water - if your goal is to improve empathy and counter alt-right messaging, then you should be horrified at what was done, because it runs completely counter to your goal.

Maybe he was on the path to the alt-right before the administration abused him, but their abuse made him much more succeptable to recruitment (again, alienation is one of their key bases.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:23 PM on May 7 [12 favorites]


"We had a talk later about WW2 and the Holocaust and it was clear and honest"

This is something I always wonder about. Like, I get that people are sometimes attracted to conservatism; like I said, I was myself. And I can see why some people might go further than that and be attracted to racism, homophobia, antisemitism, and things of that sort. There's at least a long history of those ideas in this country. But I never could see taking the step to actual swastika-waving Nazism. Maybe it's different now that so many of the people who fought in WWII are now dead, but when I was a child and a teen, WWII loomed pretty large in pop culture. We read Snow Treasure in school and my dad bought me Sgt. Rock comic books. Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Hell, Indiana freaking Jones. Even not-so-casual racists and antisemites still acknowledged that Nazis were bad. What happened to all that?
posted by kevinbelt at 1:34 PM on May 7 [9 favorites]


Anyone who has good resources about keeping children safe on the internet, PLEASE share them, it is a shitty and scary time to be a parent.

To return super-briefly to the administrator -- simply because that's what I know the most about -- if he really did care about protecting girls at the school from sexual harassment by classmates, this is the worst possible way to handle it. Harassment (sexual or otherwise) of students by students needs pretty careful documentation. It's really tempting to say "it's just kids being kids" (or "boys will be boys"), give them a slap on the wrist, not put anything on their Permanent Record. But harassers tend to be frequent fliers, who are good at calibrating exactly how much they can get away with and not have it turn into formal discipline (a lot, given sexist attitudes about boys' behavior). The thing to do is neither to ignore it NOR to terrorize the kid (like was done here), but to create a written record of the event, invite the parents in for a discussion, make clear to the kid what was wrong, and have that all on the record. If it's a one-time thing, no big deal. But if it happens again, you have a clear written record of the first time and the discipline from then, and you do the same the second time, and the third time you say to the parents, "Look, your kid isn't getting it, we're going to have to escalate to more serious punishments, including suspension/expulsion, and moving him out of all classes with any students he is repeatedly harassing." (that last one is always received as a more serious punishment than suspension -- parents flip. the fuck. out, especially if their kid is in honors classes.) But this is your third meeting and you've been carefully documenting the behavior all along and you have a good record to bring to the hearing if the parents appeal the punishment (which they have a right to do). Whether Sam was in the right or the wrong here, and regardless of the severity of his behavior, the school handled this in almost the worst possible way, making it much, much harder for them to pursue and justify any disciplinary action against Sam individually, but also potentially against other similarly-situated children who heard about this fiasco and whose parents are willing to push back a lot harder against the administration. So when Biff gets in trouble for sexually harassing girls in his class, his parents (because they heard the gossip about this when it went down) are going to FOIA prior sexual harassment complaints and show how the school has either ignored them or wildly overreacted with massive civil rights violations they have then covered up, and use that to argue that Biff is being unfairly targeted and isn't being treated the same as other similarly-situated students and the administration's account of its own actions isn't trustworthy given that LAST time they didn't call a kid's parents for SIX HOURS ....

Anyway, yeah, Mr. "I'm protecting our girls and our daughters from sexual harassment!" Administrator is part of the toxic patriarchal stew that helps boys get away with this shit at school.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:34 PM on May 7 [29 favorites]


Even not-so-casual racists and antisemites still acknowledged that Nazis were bad. What happened to all that?

The modern playbook is to do a gradual induction process, where they don't start talking about how maybe Hitler had some good ideas until they've already walked you from "political correctness goes too far sometimes" to "SJWs are just killjoys who want to ruin everything fun by being offended all the time" to "immigrants are destroying Europe", with "irreverent" jokes sprinkled in along the way so they can judge your progress.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:44 PM on May 7 [15 favorites]


I can't tell whether this story is real or not, because on one end I can totally see it being true, and on the other end I have loquacious' opinion.

A lot of you seem caught up on the school administration's handling of the event. Based on my experiences in a public school system this is pretty normal, and in fact that part of the story sounds entirely realistic.

The main part of this that makes me think it's fake, but which also makes me laugh if it is true, is the part where an old school antifa saves the kid from going down the alt-right route any further.
That’s why my fears came roaring back when Sam and I heard on the radio one day that another Mother of All Rallies was taking place on the Mall that very weekend—and Sam asked if we could go. Together.

My breath caught. He must have seen my face change.

“As counterprotesters?” he asked, eyes gleaming.
YESSSSSSSSSSSS WELCOME TO OUR RANKS!!!!!! ANTIFA CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM!!!!!!! SOON HE WILL BE IN THE BLACK BLOC, TORCHING POLICE CARS, ATTACKING NAZIS.
posted by gucci mane at 2:05 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


The thing is still, we don't know if there were previous violations. We have the mother's account, and in some aspects, some of us find it untrustworthy. Because we have met little Sams and their mothers at school, or because little Sam could be our son or our nephew.

I don't know, at the end of the day there is no way we can ever know what really happened. What we may perhaps know is that 13-year-old Sam was using offensive internet memes in class way before his parents realized he was into the alt-right corner of the internet. We may perhaps know that his friends avoided him after that episode (were they not disciplined? Wasn't he just laughing at a joke, rather than making it? And what about the gay issue?? This doesn't make sense at all). We know that the consequences in terms of discipline of whatever he did were extreme. But could they be extreme because he was already a problem in class? We don't know that at all. We know the parents let him spend a great deal of time alone and unsupervised on the internet. I could continue.

I've personally witnessed something very similar, I can't be specific because it would be recognized right away by anyone with google. I can attest that the child lied, but was also confused, and in a sense innocent because they had no idea what they were doing. Because they were a child. The parents lied to themselves, because it was a terrible situation and the alternative to delusion would be to accept something bordering on criminal.

In another, similar, case that I don't have any personal knowledge of, the child went to jail (which is very unusual here in Denmark). She had gotten caught up with terrorism.

And then on the other hand, I have a young relative who is also a pain in the butt these days and whose parents are rolling their eyes all the way back into their spines, but who will probably turn out fine just like my brother because he really wants to be part of a community and he can't uphold his alt-right idiocy very far. I tend to think that the boy in the article is more like my relative, and the parents in the article are more like my family. But I have no idea.

The article is interesting, and it's good it got its own post, not least because of the debate here.
posted by mumimor at 2:13 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


The direction this thread has taken is disappointing.

Metafilter is at its best when we are trying to understand others. There is much about these people's circumstances and lives that we simply do not know, yet so many assumptions are being made. And then we are using these assumptions to argue over side-issues and throw around blame in ways that really aren't helpful.

We'd all have gotten much more out of this article if we paid more attention to the themes it raises, and less time second-guessing and judging the characters involved.

Which isn't to say we can't discuss how people should handle the situations they find themselves in, but we should do so while remembering that life is bloody difficult and there are often no right answers, just lots of different options that may or may not work out better than others.
posted by decent rooms and a bath at 2:26 PM on May 7 [23 favorites]


I think there's a very strong tendency to want to say "well it couldn't happen to me or to my kid, because ...." or to try to find the villain (i.e., lax parents) who allowed this to happen, but the truth is -- and many parents in this thread have said as much -- it's terrifying to be parenting a child these days and you have no way of knowing how to protect your children. Everyone knows someone who had just lovely parents and a supportive upbringing and ended up radicalized and super-hateful. It's a very human tendency to blame the parents -- to say they were bad parents; if they didn't already know what was going on, obviously they were bad parents! etc etc -- because that makes it more understandable and less random. But it's not NEARLY that simple, and this is a very that good parents are living with every day right now.

We don't know what our kids do all day -- if only because they're in school for a huge chunk of it. You can only track all the media they consume up to a point, and sometimes their media is hard to understand for me and my oldest is only nine! You don't know what their friends are watching -- I know my 7-year-old has a friend who watches PewDiePie and if I knew his parents I would absolutely give them a heads up but I don't so I can only tell my own kid why PewDiePie is bad. And you're constantly walking a tightrope of not wanting to be lax to the point of negligence where you don't notice what's happening, but also not wanting to be controlling to the point of rebellion.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. I do not know how to parent my children in a media and social environment that is radically different than it was when I was growing up. There are no resources for this. We are trying to proactively talk to our children about privilege, about racism, about sexism, about internet radicalization, about memes, about the alt-right, about the attention economy, and dark patterns, and the monetization of childhood, but there are not resources to help you explain it to a 9-year-old and 7-year-old and I don't know how to do it because I learned like most of us did, growing up with the internet and watching in horror as the alt-right exploded across it. My kids do not have the intellectual tools and sophistication to fight that without a parent coaching them, but I have NO IDEA what the right way to coach them is. And I look for resources, but they're for adults. They're complicated, they're hard to understand. Sometimes I find great, engaging videos that explain things, but they're dropping f-bombs every 10 words which ... no.

So, yeah, it's frustrating to see so many people blaming the parents and working really fast to declare them the reason this kid went wrong. But guys, it is a terrifying time to be a parent and we have no fucking idea what we're doing, and we desperately need help from qualified professionals who can help us teach our kids how to navigate this. Because right now, what's out there is mostly platitudes -- "raise kind kids and they won't be unkind online." UH OKAY BUT THAT'S VERY UNTRUE. Don't blame us, help us!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:41 PM on May 7 [49 favorites]


Anyone who has good resources about keeping children safe on the internet, PLEASE share them, it is a shitty and scary time to be a parent.

I made an AskMe thread as a place for people to link and talk about resources
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:01 PM on May 7 [11 favorites]


Basically everything Eyebrows said. There are very few appropriate resources out there for younger kids, but if you don't start talking to them when they're younger, then you're losing years and not setting up a good foundation. I was trying to explain to my kid today about why he has to ask my permission before he uses YouTube (which as far as he's concerned right now is a cake-decorating tutorial delivery mechanism) and basically just ended on "some stuff on there is not for kids so I need to make sure what you're watching is ok for you" but what about when he no longer thinks of himself as a kid (so basically as soon as he hits middle school)? What happens when "not for you" becomes a feature rather than a bug? I DON'T KNOW!
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:07 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


One thing I haven't seen discussed-- the boy said he'd had doubts about the alt-right long before he talked about them with his parents.

Assuming he's telling the truth about this (and I don't know, but it seems like the sort of maddening thing that happens with people), would there have been anything the parents could have done to access those doubts?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:09 PM on May 7


it is galling to this reader that a mid-article ad in this washingtonian piece is for a site selling tee-shirts featuring right-wing message and memery.
posted by 20 year lurk at 3:19 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]


If you want to be really horrified watch this 13-ish year old boy dressed in a burka explain to you why you're a cuck. yt
Not a burka. Not even a niqab. Her face is not covered. At best she's wearing an abaya and hijab.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 3:33 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


I’m absolutely flummoxed that more people here aren’t taking this story as attention-seeking fabrication (and most likely propaganda).
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:46 PM on May 7 [9 favorites]


Metafilter is at its best when we are trying to understand others.

For sure, it can be, but it can also be at its best when it takes the extra step back to engage with the source material critically. Loquacious' take on the use of the fidget spinner was quite the eye opener, and totally the kind of thing I would have never known to examine more carefully. Vacapinta's view of this as some kind of happy ending tv special as well - it just sort of pinged some vague feelings I was having towards this whole tale.

Like, I don't know the truth behind this, I don't know the author personally, etc. but it sure does help to look at stuff like this through various lenses.
posted by mannequito at 3:48 PM on May 7 [17 favorites]


There are some good legit criticisms to be made of this article, as many have done, but uh

attention-seeking fabrication

The author is anonymous, my dude
posted by duffell at 3:50 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment.

I really can't get over this bit. This is just like every non-apology given by an old white guy. It's not that he did anything wrong, it's that his private conversation was misunderstood. I am sorry that you were offended.

At no point does the author mention that she told the kid it was wrong to tell shitty sex jokes in public. Instead she sent him to private school so he wouldn't have to apologize. And in thirty years she will be crying, "He was such a good kid. There was never any sign of ..."
posted by iamnotangry at 4:21 PM on May 7 [25 favorites]


There are some good legit criticisms to be made of this article, as many have done, but uh

attention-seeking fabrication

The author is anonymous, my dude


People can definitely enjoy attention given to something they created without others having to be aware that they created it. See: coders, copywriters, designers, graffiti artists, wedding planners, covert operatives, arsonists...
posted by Lyme Drop at 4:47 PM on May 7 [13 favorites]


jkaczor: "I've said it a thousand times, no internet-connected devices allowed in children's bedrooms or private areas...

Yes, they might get around it by visiting a friend's house - or when out, on their phone - but this won't be the same level as being able to be immersed in it for "n" hours per day... And if the device is in the bedroom, are you actually checking to see exactly when it is on or off? All night long?
"

Well, a couple of things: teens kids nowadays are on their phones pretty much all the time, not just when out. So "browsing the internet" doesn't mean "looking at something on a big screen on the computer installed in the living room, that anyone in the room can see at a glance" but "looking at a tiny rectangle on an incredibly portable device, which is so small that its contents are invisible unless you're sitting directly behind the user, just a few feet away." Even if someone is sitting next to you on the sofa, you're seldom, if ever, going to be able to see what's on their screen.

Also, only being allowed to use your phone in the living room does not, by itself, prevent being immersed in it for "n" hours per day.

On the other hand, if the device is in the bedroom, sure, it's easy to check exactly when it is on or off, all night long -- you set the usage times on the phone. My son's phone locks down at 10:00 p.m. and unlocks at 6:00 a.m. I can see what apps he's been using, for how long each day, both on the phone itself and remotely, from my own computer or my phone. You can also configure time limits -- my son's phone is available for 45 minutes a day, after which only it only provides access to specific functions I've selected (voice call capabilities, GPS, and map, in case he's outside the home and needs to contact someone or find his way somewhere, or if we need to be able to find him).

Technology is changing, and both the way people use the internet and the amount of control possible over internet-enabled devices are changing a lot. Your general idea (do not allow unrestricted internet access, do not allow infinite time on the internet) is spot on, but the mechanisms you propose to achieve it are about a decade out of date.
posted by Bugbread at 4:48 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


Jairus: "Just the other day I saw some 14 year old girls talking about how they spoof their MAC address to bypass the curfew on their routers. Any parent who thinks their network blocks are effective against a teenager is living in a dream world."

Depends a lot on your home network setup. If you allow strong access to one part, that can be used to circumvent other points. For example, if you have access to the command line, you can use that to do things like spoofing MAC addresses, getting around router security blocks.

However, if you have your restrictions right there up front, it's a different issue. Internet-enabled devices are not all as versatile as computers. If the device is locked down enough that you can't access the tools needed to circumvent lockdowns, there's just not a lot you can do. Maybe you can wipe a device completely, circumventing everything, but that will be immediately discovered the moment the device admin (mom or dad) looks at the device and sees that it's been wiped. You could probably get away with it once, saying "I dropped the phone and it acted all weird and then there was a reset screen or something, and then all the accounts were gone, so I set up a new account and I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to be mad," but you can only play that card once.

But it really depends on the kid, the computing environment, the drive, lots of factors. If your kid desperately wants to read Stormfront, they'll be able to. Maybe the library, maybe a friend's house, maybe the computers in the electronics stores. If your kid wants to browse sketchy sites when they're bored, at home, and aren't willing to get dressed and hop on their bike and ride somewhere else to do it, the odds are lower. If your kid is just a bit curious, but has no particular active desire, the odds are even lower. If your kid doesn't know much about computers because they've grown up primarily using user-friendly "internet devices" (phones, tablets, etc.), the odds are even lower. It really comes down to detailed, individual situations.
posted by Bugbread at 5:12 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


No, you've misread. I'm referring to the sub-reddit only Meetup the kid was going to go to but opted out of because they planned on smoking marijuana, which is very different thing than a large public protest in a public space.

Yeah, I boggled at that one. That was some serious 70s-style parenting there. I'm kind of hard on younger people who think any older person in an online space with them must be a predator, but sending your 13-year-old to hang out with a bunch of Nazi adults? If there had been a predator in that group, they would have spotted that kid in a second as someone open to grooming and ultimate exploitation, because they would have seen that the parents lacked the will to protect their kid.

I say that while fully acknowledging, as very well-put above, that the challenge of parenting today is unprecedented and we really haven't sorted out how to solve these problems generally. And it's not like that one particular incident was especially formative, I don't think. But it does reflect parents who have no idea how to set and maintain boundaries for their kid, even when needed for their protection. Controlling phone use is hard. Not letting your kid wander off to an adult Nazi gathering should not be a challenge.
posted by praemunire at 5:18 PM on May 7 [8 favorites]


One point in favour of the propaganda interpretation that I haven't seen mentioned is this passage:

For the next ten minutes or so, the reporters filmed the Nazi. When they finally turned away from each other, each side seemed happy, shaking hands, nodding enthusiastically, and smiling their thanks. It was the most nakedly symbiotic transaction I’d ever witnessed. The reporters and the Nazi needed each other. There was no meaning—no job—for one without the other.

Yep, if it wasn't for shakin' hands with Nazis, journalism would be meaningless.
posted by Dr. Send at 5:19 PM on May 7 [10 favorites]


This bit surprised me. Not that Jews can't have prejudices, but I would have thought we were inoculated at least against Naziism. Surely he'd has a minimum of Holocaust education, and also realised that there were no cabal meetings happening at his house?

I notice that lots of (middle/upper middle class, white) parents seem to have this idea that they should keep kids innocent of the ills of the world for as long as possible. Parents who were raised like this themselves, and who have led relatively comfortable lives - not running up against any systemic oppression or injustice much, at least - can be quite naive and ignorant about an awful lot of basic politics and sociology. I find the parents in the story entirely believable in this respect.

There are age appropriate ways of talking with kids about big, difficult issues (a comparative reading of Mein Kampf against other, more progressive texts at age 10 is perhaps not going to be a great idea for most kids), and it's hard and you have to consider each individual child and their needs, and nobody is ever going to get it "perfect" and parents of metafilter should definitely not be beating themselves up over doing their best at the time. But on a going-forward basis, one thing we can learn from the whole situation around alt right and white supremacist recruiting of young men online is that we have to talk to kids about the shitty, non-innocent, hard stuff starting from the very beginning.

(It's like how teaching consent starts with lessons for 3-5 year olds about respecting their own (when they are not in danger) and others' bodily autonomy, so that when they get old enough to learn about consent in a sexual context, it's just an extension of something they are already very familiar with, not a new idea.)
posted by eviemath at 5:30 PM on May 7 [17 favorites]


Once upon a time, I thought everybody understood this country was built on hurting or killing people for money over and over again. I was wrong.

Just by talking with educated or well-spoken people since high school, I learned that many white people think never discussing racial history in detail is the best remedy for racism.


I get the feeling that may have been a factor here and possibly for others. Some of the stoic/libertarian racist shit is very appealing if you only studied battles and tax laws in high school history classes.

I can't count how many times I encountered a blank face when I mentioned Emmett Till's murder /coverup, the Tuskegee experiment, the origin of the birth control pill, school breakfast program from Black Panthers, and other things that have affected the medical, school, and criminal justice systems.

Serious question: At age do most people realize that racism is lucrative, but still hurts other white people (poor conservatives voting against ACA because it is Obamacare)? I've known since elementary school.
posted by Freecola at 6:01 PM on May 7 [12 favorites]


I have a 13 year old son and I find a lot of the comments in this thread somewhat laughable. My child spent grade 3 “computer lab” web surfing...I’m sure the school board restricted some sites but I was never consulted and since his middle school provides wifi, any iPod/kindle/etc device becomes an access point. That’s just at school. There’s no way to restrict access. You can limit it or require other activities, sure, but the access ship sails early.

I also think it’s possible the kid was going down a dark road prior to the harassment incident. So? That means it’s ok that he was recruited? Like, ok, how does this change the core story which is here are parents who are clearly not MAGA alt-right supporters watching their child be seduced and...how do they, do any of us, stop it?

I personally do believe knowledge and talk are my best tools along with family time and a diverse community but I don’t kid myself much that I can be perfect enough to prevent this kind of thing. I just hope I’m lucky.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:06 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]


Freecola: "Some of the stoic/libertarian racist shit is very appealing if you only studied battles and tax laws in high school history classes."

My school taught plenty about racism, the trail of tears, slavery, etc., but there were still a shitload of racists.

Education helps, but, again, I don't think things are as absolute and simple as they are being made out to be. "If you just do X, you will produce outcome Y, and prevent outcome Z" is comforting, but in reality it's "If you do X, you will increase the likelihood of outcome Y, and decrease the likelihood of outcome Z."

Claims like "it's only appealing if you never studied racial history" are not borne out by the evidence. "It's more appealing if you never studied racial history" probably reflects reality better.
posted by Bugbread at 6:09 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]


warriorqueen: "since his middle school provides wifi, any iPod/kindle/etc device becomes an access point. That’s just at school."

Sometimes I feel really worried about raising my kids in a Luddite country like Japan, but other times its such a relief. Free wi-fi in school? Being allowed to bring iPods/kindles/devices to school? Whew.
posted by Bugbread at 6:12 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Bibliowench, if you’re still around, please reach out to me, here or on Twitter. I have a son on the spectrum who got into gamergate and I’d love to talk to you more.
posted by Biblio at 6:31 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


Sometimes I feel really worried about raising my kids in a Luddite country like Japan, but other times its such a relief. Free wi-fi in school? Being allowed to bring iPods/kindles/devices to school? Whew.

My other child is in grade 2 and comes home with user names and passwords for apps he is using in school, largely Prodigy math game, where parents are encouraged to send gift achievement packs (for $$) and Epic! Kids books and videos. This leads to 1) me being woken up at 6 am after my child has snuck an iPad to “explain negative numbers” and 2) getting them hooked on gamification online early. I am wearing a Fitbit right now about to listen to my Chris Hemsworth-approved meditation chatting at you all, so I can throw no stones. Nor do I think it is all or nothing.

But the tide rises and we try to keep our kids’ hearts and minds afloat.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:31 PM on May 7




Sometimes I feel really worried about raising my kids in a Luddite country like Japan, but other times its such a relief. Free wi-fi in school? Being allowed to bring iPods/kindles/devices to school? Whew.

Not only allowed, but sometimes required. I recently found out that at the school* I attended, they are now requiring ipads for 4th and 5th grade, and for 6th grade and up, they require a laptop. And I'm not just talking about bringing in a laptop cart, but each student has to have their own personal laptop or ipad that they bring to school each day. I was shocked when I found out about this.

When I attended this school, which was awhile ago but not THAT long ago, we weren't even allowed to have cell phones on campus. Now, lots of us still brought cell phones, but they were definitely turned off and kept in bags all the time to avoid them being confiscated. It's pretty amazing how much things have changed in the last decade or so.

*This is a small, private school in the US. I have no idea how common this is at public vs private schools.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:56 PM on May 7


Wait, sorry, Freecola, I just realized I misread your comment. You didn't say it was "only appealing if X", but that it was "appealing if you only X". Er...pretend my comment was in response to someone else, since the argument I'm disagreeing with wasn't the argument you were making.
posted by Bugbread at 7:01 PM on May 7


litera scripta manet: "When I attended this school, which was awhile ago but not THAT long ago, we weren't even allowed to have cell phones on campus. Now, lots of us still brought cell phones, but they were definitely turned off and kept in bags all the time to avoid them being confiscated. It's pretty amazing how much things have changed in the last decade or so."

To give you an idea, not only are all electronic devices prohibited, but my son is in 8th grade and has yet to type an assignment. All work (homework, essays, etc.) must be handwritten.

Sorry, I'm getting way off topic. I'm stopping now.
posted by Bugbread at 7:04 PM on May 7


it is galling to this reader that a mid-article ad in this washingtonian piece is for a site selling tee-shirts featuring right-wing message and memery.

on reflection, this likely arises as much from the cookie trail on the office computer (where i spend more than an ideal amount of time seeking facts to push back against whatever liberal-scandal-du-jour is repeated by the bloke in the next cube as it trends across some right-blogosphere site he tracks, or the hill) than the nefariousness of the ad engine. home computer is a little more locked down: i don't even see an ad there. sorry for derail; necessary fractional retraction.
posted by 20 year lurk at 7:42 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


"I have no idea how common this is at public vs private schools." [in the US]

Increasingly common, as Google and Apple pay good lobbying money to have major technology grants written into Title II and funded adequately, so that public schools get big bucks for technology purchases ... that come from certain approved vendors such as Apple and Google and that provide students with individual devices so that students will get used to the computing ecosystem they will need to succeed at work. (I mean, OBVIOUSLY.) The grants are use-it-or-lose-it. So my high-poverty district had hundreds -- thousands -- of iPads for students to use (mostly on carts in my time, but now they've moved individualized). But we had no wifi in any of the buildings and the wired internet was so slow it was almost unusable and the computers for the STAFF were so old that front desks couldn't take absence information by e-mail and school-wide notifications by e-mail had to be called in by phone to the district office and sent out from there, because they were the only ones with fast enough internet. There are no funds for upgrading technology infrastructure, because that does not benefit Apple or Google directly. There are no funds for "backbone" computing (administration, teachers, servers), because those are not people who will be turned into lifelong iOS or android ecosystem users. There are very limited funds for instructional technology (smartboards etc.) and that almost all comes from Title I (funding for high-poverty schools). And there are no funds for software, so each elementary school will have 250 $800 iPads with janky-ass free apps that aren't really any use to anybody, unless a teacher wants to buy 30 copies of some app for her kids to use. The feds even resisted using federal funds for well-tested and well-regarded accessibility apps that would enable hard-of-hearing or blind or non-verbal students to participate in a mainstream classroom, because that's SOFTWARE.

So yeah. If your school wants every kid to have a laptop starting in fifth grade, there are absolutely federal funds for that, so that Google and Apple can attempt to lock your child in early to a preferred operating system, and not because there's a proven pedagogical benefit to any of it.

Feel the rage engulf your body as you fling your apple or android device across the room in protest
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:40 PM on May 7 [21 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: "mostly on carts in my time, but now they've moved individualized"

This is the second time I've seen "cart" used in this thread in opposition to "personally owned." What does it mean? Are we talking a physical wheeled "cart," and the term "on a cart" has come to mean "loaned out for use during a single class period", or is there some other meaning?
posted by Bugbread at 8:46 PM on May 7


"Are we talking a physical wheeled "cart," and the term "on a cart" has come to mean "loaned out for use during a single class period""

Yep! Here's some to look at. (Most iPad carts also work for chromebooks and vice versa, those are the two most popular devices.) Generally they both charge the devices and secure them when they're not in use. A typical way to use it (but not the only way!) would be to have a "second grade cart" and a "fourth grade cart" and so on and for each set of devices to be loaded up with the desired curricular materials and software for those grade levels, so that you can roll it in to each second-grade classroom during that class's computer time and be ready to go. Sometimes they're also connected as a classroom set (sometimes the cart itself is "smart" and knows to connect all the devices plugged into it as a classroom set when told to) so that the teacher can use a program and click something to sync all the iPads with, say, something she's doing on the smartboard, so the kids all get each activity at the same time and she can see on her console who's completed the activity and who's struggling, or whatever.

All of this of course requires significant tech support, which the grants don't pay for.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:06 PM on May 7 [8 favorites]


I sincerely believe that most white middle-class parents don’t want their kids to be racist assholes but they don’t know how to teach that concept. They think that teaching kids “racism is bad” and “treat people the same” is all you have to do. Which is not only incomplete, it is wrong.

Too often, I also feel like another lesson that gets taught (perhaps indavertently) is "racism is bad, not so much because it's evil as because it's, well, gauche". This has the effect of a.) providing cover to more genteel expressions of racism and b.) making the more vulgar/obvious kind seem excitingly transgressive in an épater le bourgeois sort of way.
posted by non canadian guy at 12:10 AM on May 8 [23 favorites]


Having siblings who are now 14 and 16 I think there are a lot of people in this thread who, like me, grew up a tech geeks and are consequently projecting a level of technical proficiency displayed by at best a very small minority of youth - past and present - onto the kids today generally. Sure, there will be 14 year olds who are swapping MAC spoofing tips, but there are also an awful lot of teens who have no idea what a MAC is, or even what a network adaptor, IP address, operating system, router, etc, etc are at all. A lot of them treat Internet access like running water - if it doesn't work when you turn it on, they're completely at a loss.
posted by Dysk at 5:04 AM on May 8 [30 favorites]


For sure, it can be, but it can also be at its best when it takes the extra step back to engage with the source material critically. Loquacious' take on the use of the fidget spinner was quite the eye opener

Yep, that's a good example of a post which was enlightening. It brought some specialist knowledge to the table that adds more context to our interpretation of the article.

I guess I'm saying when we are questioning someone or something's credibility I'd rather see more facts and less supposition.
posted by decent rooms and a bath at 7:21 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm saying when we are questioning someone or something's credibility I'd rather see more facts and less supposition.

But there are few verifiable facts in the article.
posted by Carol Anne at 7:43 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]


I found myself specifically thinking that the parents' reaction to the sexual harassment incident was indicative of how he'd been brought up to be vulnerable to the alt-right. Whatever the details of the school's reaction (and the way it's told, I don't think you can tell if it was out of line or not. There's room for a lot of fairly subtle interpretations of the phrasing in the story to mean a huge difference in what the school actually did, even if no one's lying). But a girl said that the sexual things he'd been saying in the lunch room disturbed her, and his parents seem to have backed him 100%, agreeing with him that he did nothing wrong and that his being punished by the school was wrong enough to move him to private school.

At that point, is it surprising that he believed that left wing political correctness was an unjustified injury to white men? It's what his parents seem to have taught him by example.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:50 AM on May 8 [26 favorites]


I love all the "computer should live in public space at home" comments - as if these kids are reading reddit/4chan on desktop computers and not on their phone/tablet/laptop. I mean, you can still have rules, but pretty easy to break them when parents are at work/errands/asleep.
posted by valeries at 10:15 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


But a girl said that the sexual things he'd been saying in the lunch room disturbed her, and his parents seem to have backed him 100%, agreeing with him that he did nothing wrong and that his being punished by the school was wrong enough to move him to private school.

I don't have kids, but I would be seriously alarmed by the school's behavior. I would also be seriously alarmed if my kid was ostracized at school, and fell into a depression.

If anything the whole article just shows how difficult it is to be a parent. It sounds like a non-stop opportunity to potentially make mistakes.
posted by xammerboy at 11:14 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I mean, I might be disturbed by the school's behavior, but that all depends on what happened. The writer's account of what happened that day is all secondhand through an upset 12-year-old, which makes the accuracy really questionable even if the kid doesn't mean to be lying:

Sam’s guidance counselor pulled him out of his next class and accused him of “breaking the law.” Before long, he was in the office of a male administrator who informed him that the exchange was “illegal,” hinted that the police were coming, and delivered him into the custody of the school’s resource officer. At the administrator’s instruction, that man ushered Sam into an empty room, handed him a blank sheet of paper, and instructed him to write a “statement of guilt.”

No one called me as this unfolded, even though Sam cried for about six hours straight as staff members parked him in vacant offices to keep him away from other students. When he stepped off the bus that afternoon and I asked why his eyes were so swollen, he informed me that he would probably be suspended, but possibly also expelled and arrested.


Everything in quotes is Sam's paraphrase of what was said to him; "hinted that the police were coming" is, again, how an upset 12-year-old interpreted something that wasn't said explicitly, and so on. It's possible that the school was unreasonable, but it also seems very possible that a defensive pre-teen got super upset about getting in trouble, and remembered the interaction more dramatically than accurately.
posted by LizardBreath at 11:24 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]


Remember that he wasn't suspended, expelled, or arrested. His punishment seems to have been limited to being put in detention for a day and told to write a letter of apology. Given that he admittedly was having an at least vulgar conversation in a public place that upset a classmate, that doesn't seem to be much of an injustice even if his intentions were harmless. All of the disturbing-ness of the school's reaction is how verbally abusive and unreasonable they were in the process, and at that point resting on the kid's perception that the school was abusive seems unreliable.
posted by LizardBreath at 11:32 AM on May 8 [8 favorites]


It also leapt out at me how the writer glossed over the mention of other problems with her son that the school brought up when she met them. Sounded like there were in fact ongoing issues and this was the latest.

As I said before, I don't think this kid was heading in the best direction before the incident.
posted by smoke at 2:05 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


Being that he was sent to see the student resource officer, I interpreted that as the police that the boy was threatened with. I'm assuming that SROs are all police officers, as they are in my school district.
posted by LindsayIrene at 4:50 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


And it's rather disheartening how many of you want to give the school the benefit of the doubt in order to paint the kid at the center of the story as entitled.

Woah, where did the accuser go in this scenario? What about giving her the benefit of the doubt?
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:47 AM on May 9 [10 favorites]


I don't think anyone here (or in the article even) has questioned that there was something to her original complaint -- it's the school's heavy-handed response (assuming it was as reported) that many here have been taking to task.
posted by philip-random at 7:55 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Dressed to Kill: "Woah, where did the accuser go in this scenario? What about giving her the benefit of the doubt?"

What about it? It's a long thread, so maybe I missed a comment somewhere, but as far as I can recall, every single person in this thread is giving her the benefit of the doubt. Some people are suspecting the school of being the problem, some people are suspecting the boy of being the problem, and some people are suspecting both of being the problem. Nobody is suspecting her of being the problem.

Is there some specific comment you have an issue with?
posted by Bugbread at 2:56 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment.

The original article does not give her the benefit of the doubt. It insists that she misconstrued a reference as sexual, as just a joke that she didn't understand. Many of us who have been bullied and harassed, sexually or otherwise, are well familiar with this construction of reality.
posted by sockermom at 3:52 PM on May 9 [20 favorites]


That makes sense, I guess. I would include "misconstruing" within "benefit of the doubt," but I can see how people would disagree.
posted by Bugbread at 3:59 PM on May 9


Unless you're saying "he joined the alt-right, starting sharing horrible memes, modding an alt-right subreddit, joining an alt-right meet, so he must have always been terrible, and anything positive traits they saw in him before that change must have actually been misinterpreted evil traits?" Man, that's a bleak outlook.

I'm saying there are multiple failures on the parents' to set appropriate boundaries described in the article and many more implied. This kid wasn't taught empathy, he was taught entitlement.
posted by PMdixon at 4:49 PM on May 9 [11 favorites]


PMdixon: This kid wasn't taught empathy, he was taught entitlement.

And the impression I got from the article was that the boy wasn't pulled back out of the alt-right because he learned that they were people with bad, harmful ideas, but because he learned that they were losers.
posted by clawsoon at 4:19 AM on May 10 [8 favorites]


"one kid identified as trans for a while" pinged me that something felt a bit off about this story, either in its veracity or in what the parents' actual attitudes are.

Also, how are any of the router-level blocks going to work if the kid's going to use their phone data?
posted by divabat at 5:56 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


Kids (like literal actual children like the one in the article) having a mobile phone plan with data access isn't like a law of nature. You can just not have that for them.
posted by Dysk at 6:18 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]


There's a good chance there's WiFi in most of the places a (upper middle class, suburban, white) kid spends their time. I certainly know people who have kids whose phones don't have data plans, and they still do internet-y things via WiFi. (Heck sometimes I'll get the notification from my firewall that they've logged onto my WiFi before they even get out of the car in the driveway.) It's not like smartphones are particularly expensive, and unless you make an effort to go out and buy a dumbphone for your kids, they're probably getting hand-me-down smartphones.

There's a limit to the amount of control you can exercise over a 13 year old, and even less when they're a few years older than that. At some point you have to get buy-in to whatever restrictions you're trying to impose; it's not like you can just toddler-proof your house against a full-size human, to say nothing about the rest of the world.

My parents had some very strong ideas that telephones were somehow socially corrosive (yeah, bless their hearts...), having grown up in households where there was only one telephone and it was in a main room of the house. The idea of having one in a kids' room was heresy. So one time when they were away for the weekend I walked to Radio Shack for wire, drilled a hole in the floor in my closet, dropped some wire down through it to the basement where I spliced it into a jack, concealed the upstairs wire by pushing it between the carpet and the baseboard, and had a phone in my room. (It's still the most elegant wiring job I think I've ever done.) I was probably 15 and not exceptionally handy or anything, but very highly motivated.

That's the problem with saying "well, kids these days only know how to Minecraft, they don't know how to hack a router...". Sure, they don't know that because they don't need to know it. I didn't know or care about analog phone wiring, and probably would be blissfully ignorant of it to this day, except that teenage-me really wanted to use the phone late at night, and so I figured out the bare minimum necessary to accomplish that task.

I'm not saying that creating some barriers isn't necessarily worthwhile—to this day, I'm not entirely sure if my parents weren't engaged in some sort of weird mind game, where forcing me to go around their strangely-arbitrary rules was the entire point, some sort of character-building exercise. (Ockham's Razor suggests they were just oblivious, but sometimes I like to imagine it was purposeful.) And sure, there's a difference between a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old, and maybe putting out a trivial barrier until someone can figure out themselves how to work around it (with the implicit suggestion that they are Up To No Good and have tiptoed out into the Real World) has merit in itself. OTOH, it also encourages a certain level of sneakiness that some would regard as unhealthy.

But the idea that you'll be able to comprehensively top-down control a teenager's behavior seems... unlikely. At the very least, there's a gradient of control that's going to diminish very quickly, until at some point you as a parent have virtually zero control, and one hopes by that point they've developed the skills necessary to exist in the unfiltered world. I've watched friends struggle with that process and I don't think it's trivial or that there are easy technical solutions.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:53 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


Why is so much of the focus of our discussion on the mother and how she fucked up?
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:24 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Personally, it's because of how much she pats herself in the back in the article rather than examining her and the father's role in the whole thing.
posted by Dysk at 1:41 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]


I’m focusing on her because the framing of the story she wrote is that her son was so badly injured by being mildly disciplined for upsetting a classmate with a sexual conversation that he was traumatized and vulnerable to being radicalized. The natural conclusion is that it is wrong and dangerous to treat a white boy in any way he perceives as unfair — you can keep white boys from becoming Nazis by making sure that they’re never never thwarted. (She doesn’t draw this conclusion explicitly, but she definitely blames the school for driving him toward the alt-right.)

I think this is a bad enough line of reasoning that I want to make it explicit and disagree with it. I think a more accurate framing is plausibly that her unconditional support of her kid in the face of reasonable school discipline fed his belief that he had been treated unjustly by SJW because he was a white boy, and made him believe that alt-right arguments that that sort of thing happens all the time were right.

Parenting is hard, and I wouldn’t be judging her for how she reacted in the moment; it sounds to me like she did okay pulling the kid back out of the alt-right. But I don’t like the implicit argument that looking back on the situation, the fundamental problem that started it was the vicious cruelty of the school who forced him to apologize to a girl he’d upset with a sexual conversation.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:02 AM on May 11 [16 favorites]


Sure, but I feel like we’ve stalled out there.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:54 AM on May 11


Eh, I don't know. I think it's a useful reminder that teaching kids self-esteem and that they can do anything and be anything can have a downside, if you don't ever teach them that sometimes they will have to change their behavior in response to valid concerns. It's also a good reminder that you have to actively, positively, teach kids about what not to do rather than just assuming because they love you they will be good overall.
posted by corb at 7:52 AM on May 11 [11 favorites]


True.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:04 AM on May 11


letting kids free range on sites like reddit is more comparable to letting your kid play in a toxic swamp than letting your kid roam a public library.

Every time I see this sort of comment I wonder if people have looked at Reddit or if they just heard about r/The_Donald and made up their minds. Not to defend Reddit; it has top-level and moderation-level issues that allow some horrid shit. But the bulk of Reddit is pretty much general-interest liberal clickbait and cat pics, with gradually more specialized sub-forums and a lot of not-particularly-creative writing. You do kinda have to look for the deplorable shit, and even then most of it is around the offensive level of a Hustler cartoon from the eighties.*

this piece made me feel the loss of the internet of 20 years ago
That seems pretty revisionist to me. There were all kinds of totally horrid newsgroups - I ran into bestiality porn and KKK recruitment in the 90s in rural Wyoming, FFS. Blaming Reddit or the chans or YouTube is far too facile.

Parents (and society) have no idea how to deal with the constant available streams of bigotry, vileness, and misinformation available to their children. It's not a new problem that arose with Reddit - it's been a thing since the birth of the internet. And you're not putting that genie back in the bottle in an age of nearly-ubiquitous pocket computers.

I feel like there's something to be said about affect, about clickbait, the 24-hour news cycle, and grabby headlines, about a plateau of offendedness that dominates a lot of online discourse. But I don't know if I'm smart enough to articulate it.

*And it's there, and it's truly awful, and teenagers are going to look for the edges of acceptability, and some will find it. And those eighties Hustler cartoons were genuinely offensive.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:02 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]


That seems pretty revisionist to me. There were all kinds of totally horrid newsgroups - I ran into bestiality porn and KKK recruitment in the 90s in rural Wyoming, FFS. Blaming Reddit or the chans or YouTube is far too facile.

If you read my comment, I'm not blaming Reddit or the chans or YouTube, nor suggesting that there was nothing awful online 20 years ago. I'm saying that the spaces like I was in have gone. And I stand by that assertion.

But the bulk of Reddit is pretty much general-interest liberal clickbait and cat pics, with gradually more specialized sub-forums and a lot of not-particularly-creative writing.

This is not my experience of Reddit--the influence of the general Reddit cesspit was apparent in every subreddit I've ever read, no matter how niche, if you read it long enough.
posted by hoyland at 4:46 AM on May 14 [9 favorites]


I feel like y'all are not disagreeing with each other. The bulk of Reddit is general-interest liberal clickbait and cat pics, but not the entirety -- there's a bit of influence from Reddit cesspits. It's certainly far more decent than MeFi had led me to believe.
posted by Bugbread at 4:05 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Hence the bit about unfettered access. Monitored access, to make sure the kids aren't on the bad bits, sure, but just complete access?

It's like your city or town. You wouldn't forbid your young teenager from having any access to town at all. You also wouldn't want them going and hanging out in back alleys on the wrong side of the tracks. So you wouldn't allow your kid unfettered, unmonitored access to the city without at least talking to them about what's going on (and maybe grounding then or otherwise stopping their access if it turns out they are hanging out in back alleys on the wrong side of the tracks). Not because all of the city is awful, but because some of it is.
posted by Dysk at 4:38 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Speaking of how Reddit is totally cool and good now, check out this comment thread on /r/games, which is, I will remind everybody, the better moderated gaming-related subreddit.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:54 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


tobascodagama: "Speaking of how Reddit is totally cool and good now"

Were people talking about it being "totally cool and good"? I feel like everyone was saying it has it's cesspits, but that on the average it is left-leaning.

tobascodagama: "check out this comment thread on /r/games, which is, I will remind everybody, the better moderated gaming-related subreddit."

Well, yeah, talking about the "better moderated" gaming-related subreddit is like talking about whether the KKK or the John Birch Society is more extreme. That whole area of reddit is one of the cesspits.

I think there's some disagreement about what "on the average" means. I get the impression that there are some cities in the U.S. that are, on the average, left-leaning cities, but I can't think of any that don't have a bunch of right-leaning people, extremist societies, etc.
posted by Bugbread at 7:02 PM on May 15


(And, just to clarify: I'm not trying to convince you; MeFi has done the reddit discussion a billion times, it's not like there's going to be some magical resolution here all of a sudden. It just seemed like there was some misinterpretation occurring, which I wanted to clear up. I'm totally happy with us just accurately understanding each other's views and disagreeing.)
posted by Bugbread at 7:45 PM on May 15


That whole area of reddit is one of the cesspits.

If the entirety of the gaming subreddits are the cesspit then you can't really argue that it's contained to corners of reddit. Gaming subreddits make up a lot of reddit.
posted by Dysk at 2:55 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


I guess so, I haven't run the numbers.

Something I thought of earlier, that perhaps better encapsulates what I'm getting at, is:
  • Subreddits about topics that skew right throughout the culture skew right (games, for example)
  • Subreddits about topics that skew left throughout the culture skew left
  • Subreddits about topics that don't have any skew throughout the culture ("cars that look like tables" "foods that start with q" "alarm clock alterations" etc.) skew left
posted by Bugbread at 3:11 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Gaming subreddits make up a lot of reddit.

They are also, specific to the topic, the subreddits that 13 year-old kids are most likely to be left unattended to read. If the most "right-leaning" subreddits are the ones that kids are going to be reading most often, then that would support the assertion that kids should not be trusted on reddit without supervision.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:36 AM on May 16 [6 favorites]


reddit is home to a lot of awesome leftist and progressive thought and organizing. It's not meaningful to consider it one site and then point to one subreddit as reflective of the whole thing. It's a shared pseudonym system/platform system for a bunch of almost-independent internet communities.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:00 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


tobascodagama: "that would support the assertion that kids should not be trusted on reddit without supervision."

I don't think anyone is disagreeing with that assertion.
posted by Bugbread at 6:33 AM on May 16


If that's the case, what's the point of leaping to Reddit's defence by saying that some subreddits are ok?
posted by tobascodagama at 6:51 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


reddit is home to a lot of awesome leftist and progressive thought and organizing.

Reddit was also, by population, the largest white supremacy website on the internet at one point. The "it's okay, you can't see the toxic waste spill from here" argument ignores the fact that the problem is not that one can see the toxic waste, but that it is produced at all.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:04 AM on May 16 [8 favorites]


I’m sure a lot of Superfund sites have nice grassy areas and boring, non-dangerous concrete, but no way in hell I’m letting my kid play there for hours at a time unsupervised. That was my point about Reddit. And of course kids are going to find some way to break through, but that doesn’t mean parents should throw up their hands and say “do whatever.” TV was banned in our house on weeknights (so that we’d focus on homework/sleep/reading, not for content reasons) and I managed to sneak a couple episodes of Friends anyway, but for the most part the ban held and paid off for the reasons my parents imposed it. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
posted by sallybrown at 7:09 AM on May 16 [8 favorites]


If that's the case, what's the point of leaping to Reddit's defence by saying that some subreddits are ok?

Because there is NO WHERE ELSE for people to do this kind of information sharing and organizing (except twitter). Sinclair Media owns a billion news stations. News rooms are being gutted. IRL campus organizing leads to right wing death threats (seriously). It's the platform we have.

Reddit was also, by population, the largest white supremacy website on the internet at one point. The "it's okay, you can't see the toxic waste spill from here" argument ignores the fact that the problem is not that one can see the toxic waste, but that it is produced at all.

I am latinx and think that white supremacy is bad and should not be produced. The reality is that the alternative to having fairly open platforms like reddit and twitter is an environment in which fox news still spews constant nonsense, even "liberal" places like the NYTimes are "fair and balanced" and publish things like "why we miss WASPs", and leftists go back to organizing via flyering and getting their asses kicked by the cops.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:16 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Subreddits about topics that skew right throughout the culture skew right (games, for example)
What does this mean? What makes you say that games "skew right"? Certainly part of what is driving that assertion is your definition of games as video games; and your subsequent correlation between video games, gamergate, and the alt right? Which is... a connection largely pushed by Reddit? The assertion that games in general in the culture "skew right" doesn't make any sense.
posted by sockermom at 7:17 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Also, even if the gaming subreddits do "skew right," the blame for that can be placed squarely on the harassment campaign that has lasted over half a decade and the unwillingness of many (if not most) subreddits to do anything substantial about it, and the unwillingness of Reddit itself to cleanse the sources of harassment/brigading/etc with fire because they're afraid they'll lose money.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:37 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


reddit is home to a lot of awesome leftist and progressive thought and organizing

I don’t want to dismiss your experiences, and I know there are a lot of leftist subreddits. But in my own experience, even those subreddits have a high level of toxicity, and tend to demonstrate the worst behavior of the individuals who involve themselves there. Subreddits for groups/organizers often do not follow the codes of conduct or anti-discrimination policies of those organizations, and they seem to cause far more infighting than beneficial coordination.

I think the medium itself and culture are inherently poisonous, though I don’t, as the mother of an interneting teen, think parents can really control teens’ forum access.
posted by corb at 7:54 AM on May 16 [4 favorites]


The reality is that the alternative to having fairly open platforms like reddit and twitter is an environment in which fox news still spews constant nonsense, even "liberal" places like the NYTimes are "fair and balanced" and publish things like "why we miss WASPs", and leftists go back to organizing via flyering and getting their asses kicked by the cops.

Despite Jack Dorsey's lies, you can have "fairly open" platforms without hate. Hate speech is not the price of freedom.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:14 AM on May 16 [8 favorites]


tobascodagama: "If that's the case, what's the point of leaping to Reddit's defence by saying that some subreddits are ok?"

I don't know what you mean by "the point." This is a conversation, people are sharing their opinions, observations, jokes, frustrations, etc.

I was just saying that I was surprised that reddit was, on the whole, more left than right. That wasn't the impression that I had gotten from MeFi before visiting.

That's all. It wasn't meant as "...and that's why reddit is great" or "...and that's why kids should be allowed unfettered access" or "...and that's why people are wrong when they say reddit management sucks and only squashes toxicity when it's about to lose them ad money" or any of the other assumptions that seem to be getting tacked on to what I said. Odds are, if you (you, the general reader, not just you, tobascodagama) have a complaint about reddit, I am in agreement with you and share that complaint.
posted by Bugbread at 4:21 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


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