And yours could too. Joanna Schroeder believes parents should err on the side of caution and teach their children, especially their white sons, about media literacy.
In a day and age when it has become acceptable for even the President of the United States to upload hateful and dangerous posts about women, immigrants, people of color, and more, building a status quo wherein attacking minorities is the norm, Joanna Schroede believes parents should be on high-alert - especially if they have white teenage sons. She noticed that her own sons were going down a slippery slope of no return, and thus decided to educate them about the evils of social media. She taught them about the problematic, systematic ways in which alt-right and white supremacist groups target and indoctrinate young white boys into their cults, CNN reports.
She first discovered her oldest son had been exposed to content from white supremacist groups when they scrolled through his social media together. "He was scrolling quickly, really quickly," she explained. "It was so fast, and he slowed down, and I saw an image of Hitler and I stopped him, and I said, 'Wait, is that Hitler?'" Lo and behold, it was indeed a meme of Hitler, making light of genocide and Nazism. That's when she knew it was time to have "the talk" about staying alert and informed when surfing online. Schroede shared, "I know my kids understand Hitler, but as I scrolled through his [social media] I saw more memes that joked about the Holocaust and joked about slavery. [The impact is that we're] desensitizing our kids to things we should be sensitive to."
According to the concerned mother, young white men do not come across such posts on happenstance. They aren't indoctrinated into the alt-right/white supremacist culture out of choice, either. She revealed, "[White supremacists have] studied the way that our young men interact online, and they have looked at what these boys need. And they have learned how to fill those needs in order to entice them into propaganda." Therefore, once she spotted the extremist propaganda that her sons were consuming on a daily basis, she knew it was time to press pause.
She first noticed they had been exposed to such content when she overheard them using "words that had been used by trolls against her," CNN reported. As a writer who frequently publishes her work about men, sexism, and racism online, Joanna was already familiar with the kind of language her sons had started to use. "I know that the people who bothered me and harassed me and made my life miserable for all these years are influencing my kids. These are my sweet gentle boys saying this stuff," she said. So how did she solve the issue and help her sons become more informed?
Well, it was back to media consumption 101 for her and her sons. Instead of shaming them for the culture they had too quickly become deeply immersed in unknowingly, Joanna used a different and more empathetic strategy. She got on all the same platforms they were using - yes, even Snapchat - and taught them how to observe the media they were consuming critically, through discussions and more. "Condemning or shaming him would simply push him farther away from me and right into their hands. Shame is a force that I believe leads people to their worst decisions," the mother stated. "I taught them their ABCs, I potty trained them. My next big lesson is how to look at the media they are consuming constructively. All parents are trying to bend their kids' minds. Whether it's getting them to wash their hands when they normally wouldn't or getting them to think about social issues in a way that's going to help society get better. The kids and I are conspirators together."
Now, after she was able to team up with her sons through a more positive approach, they regularly sit together and discuss memes and posts they flag independently should they have concerns. Simultaneously, she will also share material that she has found online with them in order to further enrich their discussions. What does she recommend other parents look out for? Listen for words like snowflake; kek, a form of "lol" that sometimes refers to an ironic white nationalist 'religion'; cuck; chad; femenoid; beta; "Blood and Soil," and the numbers 14 or 88, for their association with Hitler and Nazism. Moreover, don't shame them, engage with them positively. "I wanted parents to know to pay attention because this particular group of boys is being targeted and these parents have no idea," she stated. "First boys are inundated by memes with subtly racist, sexist, and homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes and being kids, they don't see the nuance and they repeat and share... [Because] they like to feel grown up and they like to feel they are no longer falling for baby humor. That irreverence feels good to them." From there, have active conversations about the subject. Joanna often told her sons, "These alt-right guys were trying to trick you. Like they think you're dumb and you're not. You're smart." And that's all it takes. Believe in your children's ability to recognize and change their behavior, then guide them towards it. In that manner, you're making the world - both on and offline - safer, more welcoming, and even more inclusive.