Do you know what the term “pansexual” means? What about “cisgender”? No matter what your answer is, odds are your child is familiar with them. In a recent study, less than half of the polled members of Generation Z identified as “completely heterosexual” — the rest fell somewhere along a spectrum. This demonstrates the expansive view this generation takes toward sexual orientation, gender identity, and more. Gen Zers are also more likely to say they personally know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns like “they.” As one young woman stated in a recent New York Times article, “[Our generation] has the tools and language to understand identity in ways our parents never really thought about.”
If you came of age in the ’90s, you may be a little confused. Many folks can understand the difference between being gay and straight, but today there are multiple ways to identify and express one’s self. The differences aren’t as confusing as they might seem at first, however. All it takes is a little time and effort to understand these words and what they mean. In this post, we break down the general concepts and definitions you need to better understand how teens today discuss their relationships to gender, sexuality, and more.
Understanding Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation
People used to think of sex, gender, and sexual orientation in very simple terms, but now we understand it to be much more dynamic. For example, just because someone is biologically male or female, it doesn’t mean that they have to build their gender identity around those terms. People are also free to express their identity however they choose, and they can be romantically or sexually attracted to a wide range of genders along a spectrum. The following definitions can help you understand the differences in greater detail.
Sex is assigned at birth and refers to one’s biological status. It’s associated primarily with physical attributes like chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy.
Gender, on the other hand, refers to the socially constructed expectations around behaviors, activities, and forms of expression that others consider appropriate for people of a particular sex. Words used to describe one’s gender can include male, female, man, woman, nonbinary, queer, genderqueer, genderfluid, and more.
Sexual orientation refers to the emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction between human beings. It is independent of one’s sex and gender, and it can encompass many different identities — heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, and pansexual are common orientations that we’ll discuss in greater detail below.
A Quick Guide to Common Terms
We’ve collected some of the most commonly used terms surrounding the topics of gender, sex, and sexual orientation today. You’ll also see many used in context with helpful examples to help you better understand them.
This acronym is short for “assigned female at birth” or “assigned male at birth.” It’s often used when someone wants to describe the gender identity they were given as a child, often in contrast to their present gender identity.
Example: I was AFAB, but I identify as a transman.
Asexual is an umbrella term for individuals who experience zero or low levels of sexual attraction and desire. They may, however, have an interest in romantic, emotional, or intimate relationships. A commonly used slang term for an asexual person is “ace.”
While bisexuality was traditionally used to denote attraction to both men and women, the term now encompasses being romantically and/or sexually attracted to more than one gender. It is often mistakenly conflated with pansexuality (see below). Bisexuality is also commonly abbreviated as “bi.”
The term “cisgender” is used when a person’s gender identity corresponds with their birth sex. It contrasts with “transgender,” which is used when someone’s gender identity does not match their birth sex (see below). “Cisgender” is commonly abbreviated as “cis.”
Example: Joe, who was AMAB, is cisgender because he identifies as a man. Shauna, who was AMAB, identifies as a woman.
Sometimes people are given birth names that end up being misaligned with their gender identity. When a person transitions to the gender they understand themselves to be, that name becomes their “deadname.” For example, someone assigned male at birth might be given the name Scott, but if they come to understand that they actually identify as a woman (she/her). As part of her transition, she will change her name to something better suited to her identity, retiring the deadname in the process. People should no longer reference her deadname unless given clear permission to do so.
When used as a verb, “deadnaming” occurs when someone (whether intentionally or not) calls a trans person the name they used before they transitioned. You may also hear it described as referring to someone by their “birth name” or their “given name.” Some people refuse to use a trans person’s chosen name as a way to reject and shame them.
This phrase encompasses a person’s outward presentation of their gender identity, as expressed through behavior and external characteristics such as clothing, hairstyle, and more.
The internal, personal sense of one’s own gender. Gender identity can be the same as a person’s assigned sex at birth or can differ from it. It’s not necessarily apparent what someone’s gender identity is based on their gender expression, which is why many people have begun including their pronouns in Twitter bios, email signatures, and more. If you are ever unsure of how to refer to someone, you can ask them what pronouns they would like you to use.
Example: Even though Kenzie was AFAB, his gender identity is male.
According to GLAAD, to be nonbinary is to “identify yourself, and your gender, as existing outside of the binary definitions of man or woman, masculine or feminine.” Many nonbinary individuals use the pronouns they/them/theirs. Nonbinary people may be referred to as “NB’s,” which can also be pronounced phonetically: “en-bee.”
Example: “Did you meet the new boy in homeroom?”
“Oh, their name is Ollie and they’re actually NB.”
“I didn’t know! Thanks for telling me.”
Pansexuality means being romantically and/or sexually attracted to people regardless of their gender — including transgender and gender-nonconforming people. The prefix “pan” means “all” in Greek. Some pansexuals use the slang term “pan” when referring to their own sexuality, as in, “Oh, I’m not gay — I’m pan.”
Because of the expansive nature of gender identity and expression, a person may not identify with traditional pronoun assignment (she/her/hers or he/him/his). A nonbinary person may use the pronouns “they/them/theirs,” or they may ask that you use other pronouns. Some people say they feel comfortable being referred to with a combination of two types of pronouns (like feminine and gender neutral), and some people even feel comfortable with all pronouns.
Example: “Did you happen to see where Jin left their history book?
“I did! I grabbed it and will give it to them in 3rd period.”
Similarly, a transperson may use pronouns that are different from the ones they were assigned as a child. You might not always not be aware of a person’s gender, so it’s important not to make assumptions about which pronouns you think they’d prefer. Respecting a person’s choice pronouns is integral to promoting acceptance and inclusion for gender-nonconforming and trans people. If you’re confused, simply ask what pronouns they’d like for you to use when referring to them.
“Queer” is an umbrella term to describe someone who does not identify as straight and/or cisgender. Many people decide to identify as queer in place of (or in addition to) more established identities such as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. It enables an individual to identify with the broader LGBTQ+ community without having to say exactly how. In this sense, “queer” conveys both an all-purpose orientation and a sense of belonging.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression does not conform to that typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth (see AFAM/AMAB). Whether a transperson has physically transitioned (with hormones or gender confirmation surgery) is irrelevant to their gender identity.
We hope this guide has given you a little extra clarity around questions related to some of the more recent terms people use to talk about human sexuality and gender identity. Today’s society may look a little different from the one we grew up in (electric cars, the ability to pause TV, spray-on sunscreen), but so did the society of our parents. Every generation encounters developments in technology and social progress that seem overwhelming and complicated at first, but once we understand them, we accept them as just another normal part of our lives. New perspectives for talking about concepts like gender and identity are among these developments. At the end of the day, though, it’s important to support your child no matter how they identify or who they love.
For more information related to LGBTQ+ issues:
- A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth
- PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- Human Rights Campaign parenting blog
- What is Pansexual? A Guide to Pansexuality
- Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics
- Parenting in a Tech World
If your child needs help:
It’s safe to say that nearly every family has been affected in some way by COVID-19 over the past few months. All of a sudden, kids were home 24/7, many parents began working remotely, and everyday routines were completely upended.
While social distancing has often been a time of struggle — important milestones like graduations and proms were canceled, and a record number of jobs were lost — it’s also been a time of perseverance and reconnection. Here at Bark, many of our team members are also parenting in a pandemic. We sat down with six of them to talk about what has helped get them through this stressful time — their new daily routines, the media they’ve consumed to stay entertained, and the meals they’ve looked forward to most at the end of a long day of homeschooling and housework.
Matt (Father of Two)
“We started ‘5 o’clock fun’ as a family. No matter what you were working on or what you might be doing, we set aside an hour every weekday at 5 p.m. to do something together as a family. Everything from silly string fights and card games to playing a game of Horse in the driveway — it’s always different. Looking back, it has been the one thing we managed to keep on the calendar every single day. We even bought a ping pong table to take the competition to the next level!
“Before this pandemic, we hadn’t made consistent quality time together a priority. That all changed, though. One of my favorite activities we’ve been doing is building a small-scale model of the Disney Skyliners from Walt Disney World. Not necessarily because the activity was so fun, but because it’s still hanging up in our breakfast area and stands as a reminder that 5 p.m. is just around the corner.”
- Quarantine Soundtrack: My son wrote and recorded five new hip-hop songs!
- Marathon-Worthy TV Shows: The Great British Bake Off
- Go-To Meal: I have never eaten so many deli meat sandwiches in my life. We also became very picky about pickles. We didn’t know that we were pickle people, but it turns out we are.
Adina (Mother of Two)
“I wouldn’t say I have a regular routine per se, because every day (and sometimes every hour) is so different, especially now. For example: Breakfast can be dinner! Dinner on a random Wednesday can be a whole Thanksgiving spread! The sky’s the limit, really.
“I try to get in some sort of exercise every day because it makes me nicer to my kids — really! Coping and staying sane usually come in the form of music and a glass of wine (I know it sounds cliché, but it works). Cooking is cathartic, and I love to do it.
“Some days are definitely harder than others, and it can feel really lonely and daunting. But to add a little perspective, in many ways, our pre-quarantine routines have been simplified. We’re not running around from morning to night — hightailing it to soccer tournaments and sitting in crazy rush-hour traffic to get to a million different places. And for that, I’m also grateful.”
- Quarantine Soundtrack: Hamilton and Dear Evan Hanson cast recordings, ’80s rock
- Marathon-Worthy TV Shows: Mrs. America, Modern Love
- Go-To Meal: Nut-free pesto pasta with rotisserie chicken (store-bought, of course)
Titania (Mother of One)
“One major thing I’ve changed: I stopped setting my alarm for early mornings. I vacillated between feeling terrified and feeling numb. I was up at all hours of the night and became really good at passing levels of Bubble Shooter (I’m on level 461 in case you were wondering). I comfort-ate things like ice cream, peanut butter cups, and popsicles, and shifted to low-intensity long walks around the neighborhood more for my mental health than my pre-pandemic boot camp-style fitness regimen.
“My son’s routine was even more of a wild card. Can you believe I was worried about screen time before this pandemic? Seriously. Rolling on the floor laughing out loud. His new normal as an only child involved fielding multiple emails with way too many instructions from multiple teachers with two parents working full-time from home while his smartphone dinged with requests from friends to get on Fortnite.”
- Quarantine Soundtrack: “Alexa, play hits of the (fill-in-the-blank decade)”
- Marathon-Worthy TV Shows: The Office
- Go-To Meal: Whatever we could grab from the pantry. Or freezer. Or scrambled eggs. Lots and lots of ice cream and smoothies — and peanut butter on a spoon.
Jeff (Father of Three)
“We got a Netflix subscription for the first time and held Ozark and Bloodline marathons for mental downtime — every season, every episode. And when it was nice in the evenings (we’re in Minnesota), we’d take our dog for an extra walk just to escape the four walls of our home. And I will admit there were times when I just got in my car alone and drove around for a bit with nowhere to be and no destination in mind.
“In terms of homeschooling, we accepted defeat at times. There was simply no way we could perfectly manage eight different apps and 14 different websites while having three kids in three different schools. Things were going to get dropped occasionally, and when we realized that, it got a little easier. Instead of worrying, we just focused on the outcome. They’d just complete the missed assignment, with no penalties and no consequences. This has been hard on kids, so patience from both sides has been key.”
- Quarantine Soundtrack: ‘80s rock or ‘90s country — Nickelback if I am feeling rowdy
- Marathon-Worthy TV Shows: Ozark and Bloodline
- Go-To Meal: Take-out from Chipotle
Jodie (Mother of Two)
“I try to balance my days between working and taking breaks to ‘mom.’ I do find it hard some days to turn off the office and end my work day, since work life and home life can mix together, but I’m working to make an effort to stop working by a certain time and then focus on family in the evenings. It’s also really important to me to have an hour of ‘me’ time in the evenings to unwind — this usually consists of Netflix and a glass of wine.
“My husband and I tuned in Sunday nights to HBO’s Westworld for weekly grownup time. I also forced him to watch the Twilight saga with me and it was hilarious. I asked him why he can’t love me with the same intensity as Edward does Bella (aren’t I the reason for his existence?). He said because he’s not a vampire.”
- Quarantine Soundtrack: Pop and hip-hop from the ‘90s and 2000s
- Marathon-Worthy TV Shows: Westworld
- Go-To Meal: My teen got a sushi-making kit for his birthday — that’s probably the highlight of our quarantine eats. He and his little brother make dinner several times a week and keep me running out for rice and veggies.
Brian (Father of Two)
“For everyone but me, our new morning routine changed to ‘wake up whenever.’ During the day, instead of dropping our kids off at daycare, we would rotate time with them while the other worked or did housework. The result was a truly wonderful bonding experience with both of our children that we’d never experienced before. It was hard at times, but I’m grateful for it.
“We used to limit our TV time in the evenings to an hour, but now we watch movies as a family before bed. Our diets have also drastically improved. Instead of getting food on the go, we started making home-cooked meals on the regular. This also opened up opportunities to teach our oldest about basic cooking techniques, which has been a real delight.”
- Quarantine Soundtrack: The soundtrack from the Troll movies
- Marathon-Worthy TV Shows: Billions and Hell’s Kitchen
- Go-To Meal: Strangely, we started eating a lot of acorn squash stuffed with sausage and a bunch of herbs. The kids love it and it’s easy to clean up.
If you hear a lot of laughter and realize your child is on a video call with a bunch of their buddies, you might automatically assume they’re using Zoom to keep in touch. But as popular as Zoom has become, a similar app is quickly rising in popularity — especially with teen girls. Downloads for the Squad app increased by 1100% in a single two-week span, so if you aren’t already familiar with the platform, you might appreciate a quick overview of how it works and what you should know about your kid using it.
The platform — which has both a web and a mobile version — encourages users 12 and up to “Start a room and invite your friends to video chat, screen share or watch videos on your smartphone, tablet or computer.” Squad provides the same video conferencing capabilities as Zoom, but with much more of an emphasis on screen sharing — especially for streaming Netflix content. As fun as this may sound, there are some serious potential dangers that you need to know about.
So what’s the scoop on Squad? Just keep reading and we’ll get you up to speed.
What is Squad?
A squad is technically a close group of friends. You probably have a good idea of who your own kid’s squad is — just imagine all the people asking what good snacks you have at your house after school. The Squad app turns this concept digital by giving pals a place to hang out when they aren’t physically together.
Your kid may want to pack a dozen of their buddies into their room for a weekend hangout session, but Squad has placed some limits on how many folks can screen share at a time. While Zoom meetings allow up to 100 people to join a single call, Squad is keeping things tight-knit by capping the call at nine participants. This can encourage friends to make deeper connections on the app and prevent the virtual catch-up time from getting too overwhelming.
During an in-person after-school hang session, your kid and their BFFs might stream a Netflix show together, take turns exchanging hilarious TikTok videos, or give each other pointers on the perfect Instagram upload. On Squad, these activities don’t change much. People can use the screen-sharing feature to watch their friends browse on their phones and tune in to the same TV show at the same time — talking out loud about what they’re seeing and doing all the while. Or, if they want to keep things simple, users can opt for a video call instead.
Is the Squad App Safe for Kids?
Before you decide that the Squad app is a good way for your kid to keep in touch with their closest friends when they can’t connect in person, there are a few potential risks to be aware of and talk through together.
When you’re deciding whether to let your child use an app, one thing you probably consider is whether it has put good measures in place to keep your child’s data secure. Unfortunately, this may be an issue on Squad. Users have reported the app sending calls without their permission and preventing them from deleting personal information like photos.
Additionally, Squad’s privacy terms explain that if a user enters a contest on the app, they reserve the right to use their contact information for marketing or promotional purposes. This may not bother you, but if it does, it’s worth having a conversation with your child about why it’s important to consider what information they share online.
If a child spends time on a screen sharing or video streaming app, they could potentially encounter sexual content. On Squad, kids can trade sexual videos with one another. And while the folks on the receiving end can’t save the video directly, there’s nothing to stop them from screen recording or filming it with another phone. This can lead to cyberbullying and even sextortion.
Users have also reported being exposed to sexual content from strangers on Squad. In an April 2020 App Store review of the app, one user wrote, “I was notified to enter a party room full of young kids under 12 sharing pornography videos! Some children were saying they were violated while older boys played the videos. I left immediately because I could be in trouble just entering this room I was called to!”
If your own child is a Squad user and you’re concerned about the sexual content they might encounter, take some time to talk with them about what healthy sexual curiosity looks like, and to explain some of the potential dangers of viewing pornographic content. As always, remind them that they can always come to you if they’ve seen something that has upset them.
Although Squad was created to connect people who are already friends, there’s no way to guarantee that a call will be restricted to include only your kid’s buddies. You may have heard of Zoombombing — the act of unexpectedly sharing alarming or grotesque content with other members of a Zoom call. Unfortunately, strangers can also hijack a Squad call.
“I didn’t like how random people could go on your calls, that seems a little dangerous,” a user wrote in an April 2020 App Store review. “I was on a call with my friend and someone came on the call with us so I left and told her to hang up because I didn’t know who it was.” Because users can search for people by name or username, a person could type in a random name and then begin a conversation with anyone they find.
If your kid actually wants to spend time with strangers, they can join Squad’s “party line” to video call or screen share with random people, but this can expose them to cyberbullying, inappropriate content, or even online predators.
How Bark Can Help
Bark is not currently able to monitor Squad, but we can help by alerting you when your child downloads a new app. You can also take advantage of our screen time and web filtering features, which empower you to pause your child’s access to the internet altogether for some helpful digital downtime or even limit whether they can use certain website categories (like gaming or streaming platforms). But whether your kid has already downloaded the Squad app or has just been asking if they can have it, we hope this explanation has empowered you to make the best choice for your family.
With protests in support of black lives sweeping the country comes wall-to-wall coverage of civil unrest across news networks and social media alike. Dinner tables, Zoom calls, and comment sections have all become hotbeds of heated conversation. And while some discomfort is expected as we talk through difficult issues, there is one form of communication whose only purpose is to harm: hate speech.
Most adults recognize hate speech immediately when they see it. Kids, however, might find it more difficult to identify. So much of their lives is spent in a digital ecosystem that parents can’t always access. Memes containing hate speech often look like jokes, and while a child might understand them to be in poor taste, they may not grasp how they can lead to acts of violence. As adults, we have an important role to play in their journey toward becoming conscious digital citizens.
This blog post is focusing on what hate speech is, how it works, and what parents can do to help their kids fight against it. Use the links below to navigate to each section.
- What is Hate Speech
- How Hate Speech Leads to Acts of Violence
- Where Kids Encounter Hate Speech Online
- How to Talk to Your Kid (And Steps They Can Take)
- Lessons From History
- Additional Resources
What is Hate Speech?
There’s no set definition for hate speech, but it is generally recognized as a form of expression that is derogatory or aggressive towards people of a particular group. This can include race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nation of origin, disability, and more. Hate speech can also take many forms, ranging from Facebook comments to wall graffiti to verbal abuse on the street. Any word, phrase, symbol, or collection of ideas can be hate speech — as long as its purpose is to express hatred against a shared identity.
Hate speech is designed to make people feel less than human. If someone believes a group is so fundamentally different that they’re not entitled to basic human decency, that person will feel justified in subjecting them to a range of abuses — including harassment, discrimination, violence, and taken to its logical conclusion, even genocide.
Texting a racist meme to a friend is not the same as sending a threat of violence to an immigrant through Instagram direct messages. But even less serious forms of hate speech help to support the general goal of making it tolerable — or even popular — to demonize a group. It might look mild sometimes, but like a child testing the limits of a new babysitter, it’s always looking to push the boundaries of what thoughts and behaviors people are willing to accept. If hate speech goes unchecked, it can escalate into violence at an alarming speed and scale.Back To Top
How Hate Speech Leads to Acts of Violence
Kids know when they’re cyberbullying someone, and they understand the difference between accidentally hurting someone’s feelings and attacking them on purpose. But they may still have yet to learn that mean-spirited comments aren’t the end of the line — especially on the internet.
A 2019 study showed that an increase in online hate speech leads to an increase in crimes against people who are minorities. “Previous research has already established that major events can act as triggers for hate acts. But our analysis confirms this association is present even in the absence of such events,” said Professor Matthew Williams, Director of HateLab. “The research shows that online hate victimization is part of a wider process of harm that can begin on social media and then migrate to the physical world.”
Another thing that sets hate speech apart is that there are organized efforts to spread it. In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) tracked 940 active hate groups in the U.S. These groups — and the “self-radicalized” people they inspire — rely on specific techniques for getting people to adopt their messages. Hate speech is laundered into the mainstream by being repackaged into terms that others find less offensive, and memes are just one example. Many hateful memes kids encounter online are actually images and ideas crafted by extremists — like Pepe the Frog and (((echos))). These memes act like malware carrying a viral form of bigotry.
Hate speech is also used to indoctrinate. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and other forms of intolerance are all learned perspectives. People don’t simply wake up one morning with hatred in their hearts. Instead, extremist points of view exert a low gravitational pull over a long period of time, drawing people closer and closer to the source. Eventually, the pull becomes too much to escape, and that is when mere exposure crosses into indoctrination. Like the frog in the pot being slowly brought to a boil, people don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late.
Where Kids Encounter Hate Speech Online
Unfortunately, hate speech can exist almost anywhere. Even though you may be familiar with the kinds of harmful messages that are sent on platforms like Reddit and 4chan, you may not expect that your kid could encounter hate speech when they’re browsing YouTube to find a compilation of puppy videos or joining their buddies for a friendly Fortnite session. But each of these platforms — and many more as well — can expose your kid to threatening conversations.
According to Wired Magazine, Facebook “removed 9.6 million pieces of content it deemed hate speech in the first quarter of 2020.” Harassment and hate speech have long been issues on Twitch, a live-streaming platform for gamers. Even Instagram has been home to extremist content. In short, wherever words and pictures are posted or shared — whether through comments, in groups, or on pages — kids can encounter hate speech.
Social media platforms are constantly filling with new content, so it can be easy for kids to forget that a hateful tweet or Instagram comment doesn’t simply disappear into the feed. The PEW Research Center reports that a quarter of black Americans have been the target of online harassment due to their race or ethnicity. According to census data, that’s around 11 million people — and that is only one demographic. A kid might feel as if a post here and there doesn’t make much of a difference, but in a misguided attempt at humor, they can hurt far more people than they might think.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help keep your kid safe on Instagram, TikTok, and more. Our Barkomatic guide also lets you input all of the social media apps and platforms your kids use and gives you customized instructions for setting up parental controls. As always, ongoing conversations with your child about social media are also extremely important.
One of YouTube’s goals is to entice users to click on more videos, which it does by suggesting recommendations in a column to the right of every video screen. They populate this spot with increasingly extreme content, so intrigued viewers will continue to explore new videos. So what started as an innocent video search might eventually lead your child to an evil that they didn’t know existed.
Of course, some channels on YouTube — such as the group of “Infowars” accounts that are routinely banned from the platform — regularly devolve into hateful ideas and language. Others aren’t as explicit in perpetuating this kind of content. But creators aren’t the only ones who express derogatory thoughts on YouTube. Viewers also express violent language in the comments section. In fact, in April through June of 2019 alone, YouTube removed 500 million comments due to hate speech.
You can help keep your child from encountering harmful videos by turning on YouTube’s Restricted Mode, which allows you to filter out explicit search results. If you want to make sure your kid doesn’t turn off Restricted Mode, Bark’s screen time feature can help with that, too. If your child is 12 or younger, you can also create a YouTube Kids account for them, instead of letting them watch videos directly on the broader platform. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it can help prevent your kid from witnessing or experiencing hate speech on YouTube.
While playing a video game in order to explore another world can be fun, online gaming is a notorious hotbed of racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic language. Steam, an online storefront for PC games, has a history of users promoting white supremacist language, symbols, and propaganda. Roblox, a popular platform for building games for other people to play, also encountered an extremist content problem as some gamers filled their profiles with neo-Nazi imagery and language.
While it’s critical to be aware of some of the content your kid might encounter, that doesn’t mean you have to choose between hiding the controllers forever and giving them free rein and hoping for the best. We’ve compiled a list of your parental control options on gaming platforms, games, and chatrooms, to help you keep your kid safe as they play.
If you have any familiarity with Reddit, you probably know that the platform has a history of issues with racism, violent language, and other forms of hate speech. Although several subreddits (topic-based message boards) have been banned after users incited violence and posted derogatory language, hate speech is still quite common.
Hopefully, your child hasn’t discovered 4chan and 8chan, which can be described as the extreme and even more extreme versions of Reddit, respectively. On 8chan, several mass shootings have even been announced in advance on the site by way of the shooters’ manifestos. These two forums in particular are widely understood to be breeding grounds for extremist ideologies.
Remind your kid that even if they feel like they’ve become best friends with another user on an internet forum, unless they know that person in real life, it’s possible they aren’t who they say they are. Let your child know they should never feel obligated to continue chatting with someone who makes them — or someone else — feel unsafe by attacking them with hate speech.
How to Talk to Your Kid
Whether your child has experienced hate speech, has participated in harmful conversations themselves, or isn’t yet aware that hate speech exists, it’s important to give them the opportunity to express their emotions.
Start by asking your kid if they can think of a time when someone said something that hurt their feelings, and ask them to share about how that interaction made them feel. This can help you guide the conversation towards a discussion about what hate speech is and the very real impact it can leave on a person.
They might intellectually know that the Holocaust was evil, for example, but may not understand yet that telling an anti-Semitic joke is spreading those same evil ideas. Explaining that the lives we’re living now will also become history can help them understand the connection between the protests they’re seeing today and the broader social conditions that led people to organize them in the first place.
Our kids have an opportunity to make different choices than the people they’ve learned about in school, who have perpetuated racism, participated in genocide, or otherwise enacted violence against targeted a group of people.
If your child is younger, you might mention that a homophobic term might seem like no big deal, but it can actually inflict a great deal of harm on someone else. If they’re an older teen and emotionally ready for a more in-depth conversation, you might talk about how engaging in hate speech is often a precursor to committing acts of violence against other people — even if they don’t consider themselves capable of doing so.
If your child still isn’t convinced that the words they use and the jokes they tell really matter, remind them that the messages they share online can come back to haunt them in the future. Leaving a racist comment on a YouTube video takes only a few seconds to type out, but can affect their ability to get into college, their job prospects, and the friendships they’re able to make for years to come.
Concrete Steps Your Kid Can Take
- Report it. Hate speech is in violation of the Terms of Service for most websites, and most social media platforms have official reporting tools. Walk your child through when and how to report hate speech.
- Block it. Your kid should not feel obligated to continue to follow anyone who uses hate speech.
- Don’t share it. The more people who encounter the hate speech, the more people who are affected. It can also make hate speech seem that much more common, which means people may tune it out — which is exactly what extremists want.
- Call it out. Whenever it’s safe to do so, calling out hate speech is an important part of digital citizenship. Hate speech signals to the community that this is a space where the targeted group is not welcome. If no one challenges that message, that idea is left to stand. It’s especially important for people who are not a part of the targeted group to confront hate speech directly whenever they see it online.
Lessons From History
It’s easy to assume that if there’s no violence, there’s no problem. “It’s just a harmless joke.” But what makes hate speech so sinister is that it doesn’t always lead directly to violence — it leads to indifference first. When people learn not to take hate speech seriously, that allows others to act on their hatred without fear of being punished. This is why it’s so important to help kids connect history with what they see in their own lives.
The history taught in textbooks or referenced on the news is not as far into the past as it might seem. Many of our grandparents lived in the time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Survivors of the Holocaust are still alive today. Both realities depended on a broad cultural acceptance of injustice in order to exist. So when people spread hate speech online, they’re circulating the lifeblood of some of the worst atrocities in human history.
Our own kids may never meet a Holocaust survivor. But they’re growing up in a decade that has seen countless acts of violence. As parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, and mentors, we have to help the kids in our lives understand the difference between a joke and a very real danger.