online spaces are used to indoctrinate young people
My son loves chess. He spends a lot of time playing online, participating in tournaments and attending classes. He enjoys watching the chess masters analyze the games.
It is not an interest that I share, so I let it be. The other day, I was potter, picking up pieces, when I heard a voice on his app describing the horrible hunger children face in an African country.
The material was not dangerous, but it was surprising to me that people were looking for charitable donations on chess sites.
But being online means you’re in a public space and can’t expect to be in control. Not wanting my son to hear distressing information, I told him to shut up any comments unrelated to chess.
Then I told him to mute any discussion about race, sexuality, immigration, or gender. I educated him enough to know how to defend himself online. I know his school teaches him inappropriate content online, but he doesn’t always know what that means.
Everyone who is back in the classroom reminds us once again that education is precious and deep learning is about people and relationships. But the content we teach also deserves careful consideration, especially when it comes to child safety.
Last week I read the new “Relationship and Sex Education” program for Catholic elementary schools. “Puberty is a gift from God,” she informs us. And, later, “We are perfectly designed to procreate with him.” Such content is obviously alarming, but a lack of content can also be detrimental: especially for our boys.
I share an anti-bullying program with my sophomore, a program used in 127 high schools across the country. Its gaping holes are reflected in the gaping yawns I encounter in class every time I teach it. Be kind, tell a trusted adult, be careful, the program urges children.
My students have heard it all in elementary school. The type of bullying covered is all about peers, very focused on emotional bullying, and kids who show disrespect and empathy for one another.
What is missing? A discussion of intellectual bullying, value-based manipulation. Specifically, how online spaces are used to indoctrinate young people.
It’s a very real form of bullying. It doesn’t hurt feelings; it does not imply shame or insult. It is neither sexual nor deviant. It is a form of intellectual intimidation. It thrives on insecurities, most often those of boys, offering a strange form of empowerment through xenophobic and misogynistic rhetoric.
I watched a video, preceding a seemingly innocuous YouTube video game. It was an interview with a Mexican child at the American border a few years ago. The boy reports being abandoned by his parents. The message? Mexicans are heartless and inhuman; and that the treatment of immigrants by former US President Donald Trump is valid. For these groups, our children are called “normies”.
While our children innocently play their favorite video games, they are potentially drip-fed right-wing ideologies, guided to videos from expert commentators in camouflaging their right-wing intentions.
And they’re proactive in dismantling any support schools might offer. If a child is busy interacting with stimulating graphics, they won’t even register what’s going on.
It is therefore extremely important that parents and teachers do this.
I see disaffection in boys. They seem unhappy, especially those who are more likely to spend hours playing games, rather than playing sports or socializing with friends.
I see it in boys who get angry when it comes to discussing gender equality. I see it and it scares me.
Gender roles are changing. These changes are positive and much more equal, but the process of change will have an impact. Although we rightly empower our daughters, we should not forget about our sons. Commentators on the alternative right take advantage of the boys’ sense of displacement; online algorithms target them, as they play their seemingly harmless games behind bedroom doors.
Without guns we could avoid school shootings in Ireland, but we will not avoid a bubbling and potentially violent undercurrent in our male population.
It’s a sad truth, but protecting our boys means protecting everyone.
I would now like to see resources that really educate young people on how to defend themselves against this most modern and disturbing form of bullying.
Spun Out has up-to-date resources, but we need them to be distributed consistently.
While we’re at it, parents should also question this other material, about sex with God.