Town Talk Features

Parent Trap: Our ‘Cancel Culture’

Our culture of extreme polarization and disrespect has a new tool that could lead to more cyberbullying; it’s called canceling others. This refers to a behavior usually played out online where people cut someone out of conversations and groups. If Jane has said or done something that Tess doesn’t like, Tess can ‘cancel’ her and encourage others to pile on with condemnations. It’s a way to call others out for not conforming to norms or what’s cool, resulting in their being ostracized, belittled and excluded. I have some concerns about this behavior, but also some ideas about how it can be valuable. Let’s start with the potential negatives.

I find a lot of girls today are willing to write off peers because of one misspoken word or action. This is especially concerning because misunderstandings happen easily online where there is no personal contact, i.e., body language and tone of voice. There is also a real possibility of a flurry of judgments despite most participants being unaware of context or past history between people. It’s like gossip 2.0. Many girls will join in on this canceling process as a way to fit in and be included. People who are canceled often aren’t warned and have no recourse because they are shut out of further communication. I worry that canceling will become a tool for bullying or revenge. Leaving people out can be an aggressive way to exert power over others.

On the flip side, canceling others can be used as a way to set clear, firm boundaries. I have encouraged girls to block toxic ex-boyfriends or friends. It’s not a first line of defense; it’s what you are pushed to do after the person has ignored your set boundaries. I want girls to be open to different ways of looking at issues, to get into the shoes of others and hear their perspectives. We need to teach them how to have civil discourse without aggressive rhetoric. Listening to others gives you an appreciation of why they speak or act the way they do. I want girls to try to understand people instead of judging them and writing them off. I have heard the term ‘call-out’ as another way to describe canceling others. I prefer the opposite, ‘call-in,’ which means to be led gently to understand your error.

I also encourage girls to adopt a mentality of equality. If someone acts in a way that you disapprove of, remind yourself that you make mistakes too. Girls can learn to lower their expectations of repeat offenders so they are less affected by them and less disappointed when relationship mistakes are made. Thus, I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect. It’s important not to judge by rumors or past reputations because it’s possible for people to become better versions of themselves.

So, remind your daughters not to jump into a canceling pool and drown with everyone else. Encourage them to check things out instead of relying on gossip or texts taken out of context. It’s best to be understanding and influence others to do the same.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college in his counseling practice and camps. His newest book is Letters from My Grandfather: Timeless Wisdom for a Life Worth Living. For more information, visit drtimjordan.com.

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