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the children from the threat at home, one that is much subtler, that is hard to spot at first, and where our already outdated laws when it comes to digital issues are completely useless.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.