The Phenomenon of Cancel Culture on Teens

Amy Harger, Vicky Wen

There are times when Cancellations lead to social change or combat inequality. Cancel Culture’s effects are due largely to social media for its easy access, large audience, etc. Cancelling an individual or entity involves blocking, unfollowing, and/or verbally targeting them through social media platforms. The cancellation of celebrities and public officials often becomes big news. For example, the #MeToo movement publicly called out powerful individuals, which led to the conviction of former film producer, Harvey Weinstein, as a sex offender in 2017 (1). Social media gives teens a sense of connection with celebrities and encourages them to mimic Cancel Culture behavior with peers.

Teenage Cancel Culture takes place both online and in real life. Commenting, unfollowing, bullying, ignoring, and isolating are common experiences a teen can have when they have been “canceled” by peers. This can be in response to a teen making racist or homophobic comments, making a tasteless joke, being a toxic friend, etc. For many teens, cancellation is the worst punishment imaginable, because rejection by their peer group is this age group’s biggest fear. A review of research on media and adolescent brain development found that teens are particularly vulnerable to social influences because the regions of the brain involved in the social aspects of life are still maturing (2).

Being canceled can lead to teen anxiety, depression, trauma, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Cancellations can lead to social ostracism, and, at an age when peer connections are incredibly important, this can be devastating. Teens who cancel others may do so because they have strong moral convictions, and that is to be acknowledged, but Teenage Cancel Culture gives teens the permission to bypass empathy and forgiveness in favor of being right. Rather than learning to have debates about topics they disagree on, Cancelers simply shut out those they deem wrong. As for the teens on the sidelines, they often suffer from anxiety and fear that they will be next and/or guilt about not standing up for someone who was harshly canceled. Former president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated, “I constantly encounter students who are so fearful of being subjected to the Twitter mob that they are engaging in self-censorship” (3).

Less harsh alternatives to cancellation can include “calling out” or “calling in” someone. This refers to bringing someone’s attention to what they have done wrong and giving them a chance to apologize, learn, and do better. According to Cancel Culture statistics collected by the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans believe that calling someone out on social media holds them accountable for their actions (4).

It is important for parents to have conversations with teens about Cancel Culture and mental health. Here are some tips for parents to help prevent the harmful effects of Cancel Culture (5):

  • Help your teen understand the consequences of Teenage Cancel Culture. Teens may not realize how Cancel Culture can be cyberbullying if it is used in a way that shames and ostracizes a classmate, even one who has done something offensive. Talk to your teen about the importance of understanding what others feel and think even if you do not agree with them.

  • Validate your teen’s emotions about Cancel Culture whether it involves classmates or celebrities. Even if the issues do not seem serious to you, recognize how meaningful they might be to your teen.

  • Teach your teen to think twice before posting on social media and avoiding engagement when one is feeling emotional.

  • For teens who are cancelling others, try to understand the behavior. Do they feel like cancelling people is the only way they can keep friends or be a leader? Has cancelling become an unhealthy way for them to boost their self-esteem? Explore more effective ways that they can share their beliefs and values.

  • If your teen has been cancelled, do not judge him/her for his/her actions. If he/she did or said something problematic, use this as an opportunity to discuss it and help him/her see why it was hurtful.

It is important to start conversations with your teenager to understand his/her intentions and perspectives. The social media world changes constantly, and we are not always in the loop. Offering a safe and nonjudgmental open forum with teens creates a space to not only bridge the miscommunication gap but also build a stronger relationship of acceptance, empathy, and change.

 

 

Source:

  1. Dudenhoefer, N. Is cancel culture effective? Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.ucf.edu/pegasus/is-cancel-culture-effective/ 

  2. Crone, E.A., Konijn, E.A. Media use and brain development during adolescence. Nat Commun 9, 588 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03126-x 

  3. Romano, A. The second wave of “cancel culture”. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/22384308/cancel-culture-free-speech-accountability-debate 

  4. Vogels, E. A., Anderson, M., Porteus, M., Baronavski, C., Atske, S., McClain, C., Auxier, B., Perrin, A., & Ramshankar, M. (2021, September 27). Americans and 'cancel culture': Where some see calls for accountability, others see censorship, punishment. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/05/19/americans-and-cancel-culture-where-some-see-calls-for-accountability-others-see-censorship-punishment/

  5. Monroe, J. (2022, January 6). The mental health effects of teenage cancel culture. Newport Academy. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teenage-cancel-culture/?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=01_20_21_nh_multiple_cancel_culture&utm_content=1st_cta