Parents, your kids are at risk from hate group outreach

Article Image

Mother and writer Joanna Schroeder has a warning for parents of teen and tween white boys: If you don't pay attention to their online lives, white supremacists will. CNN's Sara Sidner reports.

Posted: Dec 16, 2019 7:20 AM
Updated: Dec 16, 2019 7:20 AM

Joanna Schroeder is a mother of three in Los Angeles who has made it something of a mission to warn parents of the racism running throughout social media and the way white supremacists are using the medium to "recruit" young boys. To some, her perspective may seem alarmist—she points to the word "triggered" as one commonly used by Nazis to mock how everyone's "too sensitive" these days, though it's also used by plenty of psychotherapists in legitimate patient settings. And, of course, most kids will not be radicalized.

And yet, her concerns are not unfounded.

Cyber-racism—also often called "cyber-hate"—is real, and increasingly prevalent. The internet is a very effective medium for groups with any sort of agenda—subversive or not—to target and groom susceptible audiences. And teenage boys are a particularly susceptible lot. We know that the adolescent brain is very different from the adult brain, which is why teens often engage in risky or defiant behavior. They have unprotected sex, and they text and drive; is it, then, a stretch to think they could easily adopt racist attitudes or language without fully considering the consequences?

Simply put, it's not. A 2018 analysis of 10 years of research on cyber-racism, cited several examples of young, male individuals—most of them ages 14 to 30—who have been radicalized into white supremacist movements. The researchers analyzed the ways in which alt-right groups go about targeting these young men, including providing interactive games and links to music videos on their websites and using humor to appeal.

What's more, it can be easy for parents of teenagers to shrug it off when their boys use questionable, or even offensive, language with one another. Boys will be boys, and all of that.

But more than ever, words matter, and especially among those who are still learning the difference between what's funny and what's not funny, which is basically every teenage boy. There's a difference between slinging an insult at a "friend" and slinging a racist jab, even in jest. Adults know this. But teenagers are forming identities and opinions, while also wanting to fit in with their peers; they are constantly testing themselves and each other. They cannot reliably be counted on to know what's funny and what's offensive, even "good kids" who know the difference between right and wrong. For example: They may know that "Hitler is bad" but they may not have a grasp on the nuance required to also understand that a Hitler reference is never even darkly funny, not even if everyone else is laughing.

Boys, in particular, are wired to impress each other, which can often include using, or enabling, behaviors and language they may not truly feel comfortable with—or even know the meaning of. (Girls, by contrast, are wired to want to impress one another but also to impress boys.) It's a meme-obsessed demographic that's always looking for the next joke, and they know that, when all else fails, shock tends to work. In turn, they may push the limits, or laugh when they don't think something's funny. No kid wants to be the one who doesn't get the joke.

Which is precisely what makes them such easy targets.

So what are parents supposed to do about it? We already know that teens spend too much time on their phones—a whopping nine hours a day, according to Common Sense Media, which even teens agree is too much. But even if parents limit their kids' allowed screen time, it's nearly impossible to monitor their every move on social media. There's just too much to see. Over 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram each day; the app's biggest demographic is young adults between 18-24.

That's why it's critical for parents to review a teen's accounts and activity with him or her together, and to talk to them about not only who and what they follow but how they take that information in. What do they think about it? What do they like to read and watch—and do they believe everything they encounter? It's necessary to listen to (and, in texts, read) how they talk to their friends, and call them out on language that's not okay.

Talk to them about the dangers of mindless scrolling, and how passively consuming information correlates to higher levels of depression.

The truth is that most kids aren't looking to the internet to be radicalized, or to become racists. But just because the intent may not be there, that doesn't mean they're not at risk. Most boys aren't bad kids. But they're still kids, and the more of this language these kids see and hear and use, the more it will become normal—and far harder to undo.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 658043

Reported Deaths: 12467
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion902221628
Lake48163871
Allen35614632
Hamilton31884394
St. Joseph29615510
Elkhart25291412
Vanderburgh21148377
Tippecanoe19815197
Johnson16262353
Porter15867268
Hendricks15744297
Clark11860179
Madison11688315
Vigo11520228
Monroe10267158
Delaware9800178
LaPorte9725194
Howard9024194
Kosciusko8519107
Bartholomew7394147
Warrick7380147
Hancock7379128
Floyd7149165
Wayne6597189
Grant6406157
Morgan6044124
Boone604188
Dubois5876111
Dearborn541266
Henry539892
Marshall5397104
Cass538999
Noble507575
Jackson462663
Shelby458890
Lawrence4161111
Gibson400581
Harrison395960
Clinton393353
DeKalb382878
Montgomery382883
Miami355163
Knox354484
Whitley347235
Huntington339276
Steuben336355
Wabash329575
Putnam326559
Ripley325261
Adams320749
Jasper313643
White295651
Jefferson293270
Daviess284496
Fayette270555
Decatur269688
Greene260278
Posey260031
Wells256074
Scott248947
LaGrange240270
Clay239444
Randolph225076
Spencer216130
Jennings214044
Washington208727
Sullivan202239
Fountain200641
Starke186450
Owen181652
Fulton177437
Jay177328
Carroll175718
Perry172635
Orange170450
Rush164222
Vermillion159040
Franklin158435
Tipton145641
Parke138415
Pike127232
Blackford120327
Pulaski106243
Newton96431
Brown94839
Benton91213
Crawford90113
Martin80014
Switzerland7527
Warren74712
Union66810
Ohio52811
Unassigned0428

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 959995

Reported Deaths: 17045
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1111071193
Cuyahoga945941709
Hamilton72643947
Montgomery46983875
Summit39720942
Butler35094460
Lucas34829757
Stark29061835
Warren22166270
Lorain21781386
Mahoning19282537
Lake18210300
Clermont18200206
Delaware16289129
Licking14832197
Fairfield14401156
Trumbull14171455
Greene13481211
Medina13220219
Clark12139333
Wood11411193
Portage10870153
Allen10715232
Richland10184205
Miami9954179
Columbiana8052179
Muskingum8046123
Tuscarawas7984235
Pickaway796798
Marion7944135
Wayne7799217
Erie6803183
Ross6083136
Geauga5996129
Hancock5945110
Scioto5886105
Ashtabula5884143
Lawrence520373
Union506552
Darke5013122
Belmont483987
Sandusky473393
Jefferson4726107
Huron4722117
Seneca4624103
Athens457331
Mercer4570101
Auglaize454498
Washington452186
Shelby439167
Knox398584
Putnam3967101
Madison389147
Ashland375495
Fulton375364
Defiance3682102
Brown367842
Crawford355396
Preble351070
Logan350158
Clinton336862
Highland324455
Ottawa319667
Williams299777
Jackson287756
Guernsey284034
Champaign283145
Fayette266343
Perry265943
Morrow257224
Henry243665
Holmes2420104
Hardin241957
Coshocton230847
Van Wert227849
Gallia219846
Adams213732
Pike212825
Wyandot207952
Hocking192248
Carroll178928
Paulding158023
Meigs133836
Noble128142
Monroe115336
Morgan99734
Harrison99632
Vinton76515
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
29° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 29°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
23° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 23°
Huntington
Cloudy
26° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 26°
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
29° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 29°
Lima
Partly Cloudy
25° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 18°
Cooler Thursday, More Warmth Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events