James Charles spat: Adult wisdom needed to help to navigate 'cancel culture'

This article was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald here

The hidden side of teens technology use

James Charles attends the Metropolitan Museum of Art gala. The YouTube star has the record for the most subscribers lost in 24 hours.

James Charles attends the Metropolitan Museum of Art gala. The YouTube star has the record for the most subscribers lost in 24 hours.

 News headline have been filled with YouTube megastar James Charles who lost 3 million subscribers to his YouTube channel in days. His followers, many of them teens, decided the star’s brattish and ungrateful remarks were poor form and they left him high and dry.  

 This mass action is called the ‘Cancel culture’. ‘Cancel culture’ is a large-scale fan exodus on social media when a celebrity doesn’t act in a way fans accept. In line with the ‘attention economy’, it is depriving someone of your attention, and for stars online this means depriving them of a livelihood. More important to point out is that it is often led by our kids!

 Research consistently shows that the screen mediates our sense of agency. It makes us braver and bolder to do and say what we really think. Youth's engagement with the online exemplifies this. When hugely successful YouTuber Logan Paul posted a deeply insensitive video about suicide his followers took matters into their own hands by de-platforming him instead of waiting on YouTube to do it. Would you feel comfortable if your teen if they were part of this action?


Kids today expect more

 A defining feature of today’s young people is the breadth of ideas and people they engage with. This is a direct result of their life online, and it has nurtured their strong social, political and environmental views and values. They are no longer just interested in who Selena Gomez is dating. Don't get me wrong, they still care! But, they also want to know who their heroes voted for, why they did, what their thoughts are on rape culture and climate change.

In response, this generation of youth have developed their own set of standards they expect their celebrities to live up to. Social media platforms are notoriously poorly regulated and in response we are increasingly seeing teens - who make up the bulk of social media users - flex their muscles and take action to protect their turf and their standards where needed. At times their judgements are spot on, but not always.

Online and real life is now blurred

We used to explain to kids that what happened online is not real, and has nothing to do with real life. This is no longer the case. Their world is online and it’s now difficult to see the line between real and online. Kids are developing new mindsets, skills and priorities that they now bring into their offline life and vice versa. Kids taking the day off school to demanding the government reconcile climate change and guns in schools is one such example.

How do we parent digital teens?

Watching the patterns of actions young people take online, helps us understand where our support and guidance are needed. In terms of cancel culture, discussion on tolerance, ethics and expectations of others is important. If they are going to rip someone’s livelihood from them, they would want to have good reason for it and reflecting on it with an adult would help broaden their understanding.

Technology is having unprecedented impact on childhood, much of which we may not be aware of. This can be daunting for parents. It’s important however that our parenting isn’t caught in a time warp. Adjusting our mindset and broadening our lenses beyond managing screentime and cybersafety is needed. Don’t let technology scare you off. Our kids are dealing with some big ideas early in life and need our adult wisdom.