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Everything You Need to Know About Cancel Culture

Everything You Need to Know About Cancel Culture

Here's everything you need to know about how cancel culture affects kids.

Over the last few years, “canceling” has come up within the world of celebrities—from the #TaylorSwiftisOverParty to Louis C.K.’s banishment. But what does this really mean?

What is "cancel culture?"

To cancel is to call out a behavior—an offensive remark or an unforgivable action—and to reject the person responsible through blocking, unfollowing, and even verbally targeting on social media platforms, according to Lizzy Duffy, senior social strategist at Sparkloft Media, a social media creative agency. Unfortunately, cancel culture is no longer just for famous people. It has made its way into classrooms and teen peer groups. And now parents are concerned it’s affecting their kids. Experts are here to help you understand the implications of canceling someone and how you can help your kids cope.

What Happens When Kids Cancel Each Other

When Logan Paul, a 24-year-old YouTuber with 20.2 million subscribers, published a video that included footage of a suicide victim, people banded together to “cancel” him, which in turn pressured not only YouTube but the advertisers and sponsors he worked with to take action against him. Paul was removed from Google’s Preferred, the company’s premier advertising platform, which prevented him from monetizing his YouTube videos.  

Teens and kids are now applying this practice to their peer groups, Duffy says. While the phrase “you’re canceled” can be a joke between friends, some teens are actually boycotting classmates, and sometimes over a personal opinion.

“All the friends I had through middle school completely cut me off,” a high schooler nicknamed “L” told The New York Times. “Ignored me, blocked me on everything, would not look at me.”

When L asked a former friend why she had been isolated, she was told she was “a mooch, annoying and petty, and an emotional leech who was thirsty for validation.”

When to cancel someone is an arbitrary and personal decision. As Arielle Rokhsar, a junior at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, explains: “There is no definite line between what actions allow for one to be canceled and for one to be spared, it all depends on how the audience interprets it.”

And values are constantly evolving. Ali Bhalloo, Arielle’s classmate, argues the “views that we have today may be considered wrong in the future. Opinions change with time. In my opinion, it is crucial that we cancel cancel culture.”


The Psychological Impact of Canceling

Like bullying, canceling can lead to kids being isolated and ostracized, says Rebecca Sinclair, Ph.D., child and adolescent psychologist and director of psychological services at Brooklyn Minds, a mental health practice with locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Manhasset. “Children and adolescents are much more vulnerable than adults, and isolation can affect depressive moods, anxiety, impulsive behavior, and use of substances.”

Plus, cancelation can make individuals afraid to stand up for themselves or voice an opinion, says Alexandra Hamlet, Psy.D., clinical psychologist in the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit that helps children and families with mental health and learning disorders. She says that while there are instances when avoidance can be appropriate—such as when someone is racist or harassing—it’s always better to first have a discussion with the individual and help him understand that what was said is not okay.

“A question that should be asked is, ‘does the person really deserve the removal of support in such a reactive way for saying one thing that might have been disagreed with?’” Dr. Hamlet says.


Some Issues with Cancelation 

A community that unites against someone who has done something unforgivable can be empowering. It can also make kids think twice before posting or announcing potentially offensive views.

But there’s a negative too. “It’s balancing this fine line because we want to give our youth and teens the opportunity and power to call [them] out when there are issues in teen behavior,” Dr. Sinclair points out. “The issue is, [cancelation] doesn’t leave opportunity for improvement.”

People—especially kids—make mistakes. Kids have not had as many experiences to learn from as adults have. Learning from failures allows adolescents to build up social skills, develop a sense of self, and develop a sense of relationships, Dr. Sinclair says.

In 2019, President Barack Obama disparaged the concept of canceling someone in an interview about youth activism. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities,” he said. “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you.” 

And kids are often not told they’ve been canceled, or the reason behind it. A confrontation would at least provide them with an opportunity to apologize, learn, and grow, Duffy says.

Dr. Sinclair also points out that the confusion caused by social isolation often causes teens to become defensive and cling onto the opinion or belief that led to the cancellation in the first place.


Parents' Roles in Cancel Culture

Like any other difficult conversation with your adolescent, it is important to understand where your child is coming from.

“Cancel culture might make the parent really uncomfortable and alert them in a hyper-vigilant way, but it is important to hear from the kids what their emotion and experience is, whether it’s worry, sadness, or anger,” Dr. Sinclair says. “There can be a difference between validating a child’s emotion and agreeing with their behaviors. You can validate how frustrated they are and how confused they are without agreeing that canceling someone is the right thing.”

Also, as Duffy points out, cancel culture makes it difficult for adolescents to have transparent conversations about things they disagree about, which is an important life skill.

Dr. Hamlet suggests parents focus on teaching their child what it means to understand someone else’s point of view and that settling differences doesn’t have to mean blocking someone out of your life or unfollowing them on social media.

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Melissa Wickes

Author: Melissa Wickes, a graduate of Binghamton University and the NYU Summer Publishing Institute, is the production editor for NYMetroParents. When she's not writing, she can be found playing the guitar or eating pasta. See More

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