This took a long time writing. I started this post a few times, but I was just too emotionally involved at that time. By the time of this post, the whole situation has “resolved” as so often: The child changed schools, nothing is actually solved, it just became somebody else’s problem. Let me try to start at the beginning…
Social media is a mixed batch. We all participate in some kind, it can be a tool of liberation, to create community and organise, it can be a tool of oppression, censoring and blocking, boosting fascist propaganda. All of this is true for adults and children, but with children there are some added problems. There’s safeguarding issues, grooming, cyberbullying, all that shit. But all those dangers are external threats, there are mechanisms, laws and we can offer some protection, but nobody really protects the children from the threat at home, one that is much subtler, that is hard to spot at first, and where our already outdated laws when it comes to digital issues are completely useless. Nobody protects children from over zealous social media parents.
For us, the story started with the new school year. The new kids in year 5 started and right away a mother whose son had a fight with another kid showed up, hit the other kid and threatened him. Things calmed down a little after that, until the kid started bragging about being a TikTok star. He is the star of his mother’s channel with 42k subscribers right now. Of course that meant that he was exempt from certain school rules, like doing your home work, right? And he should be the popular kid, right? You can imagine how that went down with a bunch of 5th graders, which is when trouble in class started. Also, his TikTok brand is eating things considered “disgusting” like innards, snails, insects…, so the older kids started teasing him. They didn’t think him cool and brave at all. Or funny. They thought him an arrogant jerk.
At that point, his mother started cashing in on the alleged “bullying” of her son. Teary videos were shot, there was (is) a life chat every evening from around 6pm to 10 pm, where she and the kid rehashed every single minute, telling how badly the poor boy is being treated, with people lapping it up like a telenovela. If you had a critical remark, she was quick to block the heretic. I only watched very little of it, but it was completely bizarre (and honestly, it’s one of the reasons why I’m very sceptical about online tales of “how I’m being bullied”). The audience isn’t kids. No kids find any of this cool or interesting. The audience is adults, mostly women, who adore that cute as a button (blond, sparkling blue eyes) oh so lovely boy (who used to walk past kids, randomly insulting them as “whores” or “sons of a whore”). The audience is also generous, sending gifts and money.
As you can see from this setup, there was no way forward left. The drama created an audience on social media, support, sympathy, money and gifts, therefore the drama needed to continue, so mum created drama. Mum showed up at school after class, chasing the alleged bullies, refusing each and any reasonable talk. One day during recess, the kid jumped the fence (because just walking through the door wouldn’t have been visible enough) to go to the take away on the other side of the road to get some fries. When asked by his class teacher why he did that, he shrugged his shoulders and said “instructions from mum”. The incident, the following written reprimand with the punishment, the refusal to accept the punishment (nono, it wasn’t true at all) created enough drama to get things going for a while. The other parents kept watching that life stream, fearing that their kids would be thrown to an online mob, we tried to involve CPS because WTF?, the principal and assistants basically took turns watching to see if we needed to involve lawyers and the whole school was not doing much else. Meanwhile the kid himself became more and more isolated. No kid wanted to even talk to him anymore, because no kid wanted to become tonight’s main character in the boy and mummy show.
And while social media can be a tool to speak truth to power, in the case of school and parents, it’s actually not a leveller of the playing field. Because parents can say whatever they want, but teachers have to keep their mouths shut, because we have professional ethics and guidelines. That’s why I won’t tell you even the name if my school and there is no identifying information.
Finally, during class council (it’s a lesson we have in years 5 and 6 where the kids can talk about issues in class and in school), the kids openly told him that they were fed up. They didn’t want to be called names during recess, they didn’t want him talking about them on TikTok. Of course, in his eyes, this was another bullying incident, he ran out of class and started calling mum. During recess, he followed one of the girls who had criticised him with the phone in hand, because “his mum wanted to talk to her” until the girl hid crying in the toilet until the other kids informed me and I could get her to safety. He was waiting in front of the toilet, refused to leave or to turn off the phone (later mummy bragged about having it all on tape, actually illegal in Germany)The boy himself was without any remorse. We tried to talk to him about why it was wrong not just to use the phone (we have a “no mobiles” rule), but also to completely ignore anything us teachers said and worst of all, to follow that girl and harass her. That was the last time any of us saw him. Afterwards, the mum said he was sick (while posting both scripted food videos and doing life streams with him), until the ministry found him another school. Now he is their problem.
The whole story made me incredibly sad and angry. While the boy was a pita for us, he’s the actual victim here. He’s building his whole identity on being both a TikTok star and a poor victim. What will become of his “career” when he outgrows the cute as a button age? Research shows that children do increase traffic, but only till age 13. He’s already eaten about everything he can legally get his hands on, what will he eat next? Sample dog poo? And how is he develop a healthy sense of himself away from mummy, who posts Valentine’s Day pics of him in front of roses and heart shaped balloons, with texts the boy clearly didn’t write himself and that would have been cringe if an actual partner wrote them, but are downright creepy when allegedly coming from a child. And last but not least, from what you’ve read so far, you’d have guessed that the child is an only child, mummy’s little prince. He’s the oldest of 5. Yes, and still mummy does life chats every night from 6 to 10. No, daddy isn’t always there. The younger kids are left to themselves, which is probably better for them than having mum’s attention. And nobody protects any of those kids. They’re clean, they’re fed, they don’t get hit, everything is fine. France is finally trying to do something to protect children from their own parents on the internet. I hope that other countries will follow suit, even though it’s too late for this child.
Maybe the incels can find a use for him. That attitude sounds like it would fit right in.
That poor kid.
It sounds like a complete nightmare to deal with, not your problem now, but you can’t help wondering what will happen to the child. And the rest of the kids just being ignored. We really aren’t very good at dealing with mental cruelty, well in the UK we are still not great at dealing with physical harm, but at least there are clear guidelines for that.
Marcus Ranum says
I hate kids, generally, so my opinion should be immediately suspect.
That said, I’ve always felt that having kids is not a right. They should be treated like a rare resource while humanity lets its population reverse-balloon. And prospective parents don’t get permission to gestate until they pass a series of tests, including training a large language model AI to not be a sociopath. I used to feel that would-be parents should have to raise and train a puppy first, but that would be cruel to dogs -- now we have AIs that can take one for the team and can be cleanly turned off if they go completely nutso.
Marcus Ranum says
Oh, and while I hate kids, I hate parents more.
Great ghu parents are annoying. They accomplish something that they were constructed by nature to be able to do, and are all like “wow look what I accomplished!” I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s inevitable once you get the ball rolling. Not making kids, now that’s an accomplishment. Like parking a car on the street in San Francisco -- it’s hard.
There are very good reasons why governments should not get a say in who gets to have children. Forced sterilization is something Nazis do. We need better ways to deal with shitty parents than that.
It mainly falls to the state to protect children from their parents if that becomes necessary.
The problem is that there has to be a general consensus as to what is abuse and what degree of abuse is enough for the state to step in, and the criteria for intervention are a balancing act betweeen the need to avoid intervening unnecessarily on the one hand and the need to not allow obvious abuse to go unchecked. Add in that this depends upon the judgement of fallible humans (social workers, and then family court judges.) And the criteria have to be clear enough that they don’t allow too much room for the government workers (social workers, judges) to abuse people.
(Actually removing children from abusive situations has the problem that the alternatives are pretty abusive already, so the situation has to be really bad to justify it.)
In the USA, there’s also the problem that there are things some parents do with their children that some communities and authorities consider vital for the well-being of a child and other consider abuse.
It’s easy to get people to agree that there are some people who shouldn’t be having children. The problem occurs when it comes to deciding exactly who shouldn’t be having children. It’s quite rare for people to agree that they themselves should not have children, but they’re quite happy to say that other people shouldn’t.
I can’t help but feel that this is similar to the question of power: The only people who can be trusted are the ones who admit they can’t be trusted.
Raging Bee says
The problem is not that some people “shouldn’t have kids,” or who gets to decide who should or should not be allowed to have kids. (I seriously doubt we’d ever come up with any set of tests that could reliably tell us who was “good” for the task.) So let’s not get distracted with lame eugenics fantasies. The problem is the apparent lack of legal or other resources to deal with terrible and unscrupulous parents like the mum in this story. Bringing CPS into this would have been the right idea, but what would the law empower them to do, exactly?
It might also help to have a cop or detective come by the mum’s house and say something like “In your video of [date], you alleged [X], which is a crime. Do you have any evidence that a crime has been committed? Do you wish to report one?” That might rattle mum a little, but it would only work if she’d actually alleged a criminal act.
I suppose having the mum’s platform or ISP shut down her account might be an option. But again, is there a legal or child-protection framework for such action?
“That might rattle mum a little”
Nah. Just more material for yet another video. “The COPS came!!!1!1!”
The mum chasing around and bullying other children sounds like something that should get her booted off the premises or even barred from entering. The only other thing I can think of is planting an idea with the kid that might help him process all of this later in life. Even if all he does in the moment is tell you that you’re being horrible to him.
The problem with stuff like this is it seems fashionable for parents to think they have the right to groom their kids to be whatever they think is convenient. And because, at least here in the US, logic isn’t really taught as a separate concept until college, parents who want to use their kids to accomplish their own ends are encouraged to act selfishly. You provide your child with food and shelter, shouldn’t you naturally get them to do work for you in return? You believe in a religion or political party, shouldn’t you naturally have the right to indoctrinate your kid in the same beliefs before they can choose other options? Your kid has some inconvenient needs, shouldn’t you have the right to ignore them if they don’t seem sufficiently appreciative of how their needs are affecting you? All of these are terrible ideas I’ve seen in the wild.
I don’t have kids or interact with anyone who does very often. I’m sure some of you could add to that list and make it quite lengthy. I don’t have any good answers, really, but yeah. I can see the problem. I’m not sure why more people don’t. Maybe we need introductory logic classes in early grade school?
Raging Bee says
PS: Any word on how that kid is doing since “the ministry found him another school?” Does anyone at the other school have any information on what really happened at his previous school? If not, is there any possibility of writing them to tell them?
Although TikTok says that it’s only 13 years upwards, they didn’t do shit, of course. And sadly, child labour laws don’t regulate that area. It’s what France is doing right now. Of course, it’s a grey zone between hobby and child labour, but I’d say that as soon as money is involved, it should count as labour. No word on how he’s doing there, but of course the appropriate information was passed on.
Yepp, we did that. Of course, she denied that those things ever happened. Further proof of the school bullying her…
Raging Bee says
In addition to child-welfare concerns, there’s also a question of slander or defamation by the ADULT mum. I don’t know what your country’s laws say about slander or defamation, but surely at least a few of her allegations about both other kids and school personnel — publicly stated to an audience of thousands — might qualify?
Laws vary, and libel laws vary *a lot*, but I beileve one fairly constant thing they say is “It’s gonna cost ya.”