Care and Feeding

Our Teen Is Ruining Family Fun With Her Newfound Love of Cancel Culture

I’m glad she’s becoming more socially aware, but can’t we just enjoy a movie without her critiques?

A bucket of movie popcorn with an X on it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 16-year-old daughter, like many other teens, spent a lot of the pandemic on social media. She and her friend group have become much more active around social justice issues, following activists on Instagram and organizing protests/actions in our city. In general, I’m proud she’s expanding her worldview and taking action. However, it seems that many of the activists she follows are very “pro-canceling,” and she’s taken this to heart. We can’t decide on a movie as a family, go shopping at the mall, or go to a park without my daughter railing against a brand/person/company that the rest of the family was excited about—even though (if I’m being honest) she usually hasn’t done the research, and is just repeating what she saw on Instagram.

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Recently, a movie came out that we were all excited to see. We counted down, sang the songs together, and looked forward to the movie as a bright spot amid a hard year. We saw it on opening night and really enjoyed the time spent together at the theater, our first time since before the pandemic. We loved it. The next day, my oldest shut us down at the dinner table by saying the director was “canceled” for not casting enough darker-skinned actors in the movie. She said by supporting the movie, we were showing our colorism. My younger daughters were immediately deflated. Now the mood around the house is strained and tense. It seems like my daughter has an extremely, extremely high bar for what can pass her test, and it’s honestly a huge bummer to be constantly tiptoeing around her, unsure whether a celebrity we’re about to praise has actually done something cancel-worthy and we just didn’t realize it yet.

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I am honestly trying to find the line between genuinely enjoying activities and experiences for what they are, versus being honest about what’s problematic in our society. I know this is an important part of my daughter’s identity formation. But sometimes, I just want us all to be able to be into something, you know? Being around someone who’s constantly critical and negative has made it hard to genuinely enjoy my daughter’s company. Am I out of line if I ask her to tone it down? How can I encourage her to continue this developing awareness while still reminding her not to yuck our yum all the time?

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—Mom of a New Activist

Dear Mom,

Far be it from me to discount how obnoxious budding do-gooders can be with their need to get folks quickly on board with something that they may have only just come to understand.
However, do consider that your daughter asking you to see the harm in some of the things you may have otherwise found enjoyable is not an attack on your character, nor your good time. Furthermore, some of the discomfort may come from knowing that, at times, she may be rightfully directing your attention to something that you would otherwise happily ignore.

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For example, the movie you speak of—which I am assuming is In the Heights—may have been a lot of fun for your family after a difficult year, but colorism is some deep, world-altering stuff. It is more than a misstep in an otherwise “nice” film; it impacts life outcomes, and the erasure of darker-skinned people in media is but one of the many ways that anti-Blackness and White supremacy are promoted across the world. That may be more than you want to deal with when you’re trying to have a Blockbuster night, but your daughter has seen that the world is bigger than what she touches on a daily basis, and she’s probably not going back.

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Encourage your daughter to be empathetic to her family as you all learn new information. Talk constantly about the “both/and” dynamics that make up so much of our lives; In the Heights can be a fun movie that you love, but you should be honest about what was wrong with it and the fact that if we refuse to have our “yum yucked” when it comes to situations like that, things that can and should get better will not. Acknowledge that celebrities are complicated people, like anyone else, and that their behavior should be held to the same standard we would want for ourselves.

As your daughter figures out what she can and can’t live with in this world, take time to reevaluate some of those things for yourself. Where are you willing to be uncomfortable? Are you modeling your values while encouraging her to develop her own? Ask for and show her kindness, remind her that she won’t win anyone over to her side without being able to reasonably articulate her feelings, and help her come to terms with the fact that she’s going to have to interact with people who couldn’t see the world any more differently than she does. It’s important to handle those exchanges with grace too—and prove it when she’s really getting on your nerves. Best wishes.

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From this week’s letter, “Grumpy about ‘Grandpa’”: “My partner and I barely know this person, and what we do know of him, we do not find particularly pleasant.”

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a single mom to my 12-year-old son, “Colin.” Colin went over to a friend’s house a few days ago and came back wearing nail polish. He liked it so much that he asked if he could start using mine when this one wears off. The problem is that I feel uncomfortable with this even though I don’t want to. I think of myself as a progressive, accepting person, so it bothers me that looking at Colin’s hands makes so uncomfortable. Intellectually, I know that there’s nothing wrong with my son wearing nail polish, that it’s great that he’s found a way to express himself, and that he’s not hurting anyone. But for some reason, I just don’t like it. So far, I’ve been going with “fake it till you make it” and am trying my hardest to give Colin no indication that I feel this way. Do you have any advice for how I can get over this?

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—Polish Problems

Dear Polish Problems,

You feel uncomfortable because most of the social messaging you’ve received since birth tells you that Colin is doing something that he should not be doing and that he looks “wrong” somehow. Being progressive feels this way often because it requires you to act on values that run counter to the norm.

Keep faking it. If the nail polish becomes a constant fixture in his life, figure out a way to connect with him through it: picking new colors together, creating a manicure ritual, etc. In time, you’ll hopefully get past your discomfort and realize that nail polish is just colorful paint that people put on their fingers and that though most of us were raised to believe that it was exclusively for women and girls, there is nothing gendered about pretty, smelly chemicals in a bottle. Good luck to you.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We were planning to attend a wedding, but our preteen son recently revealed that one of the bridesmaids was quite inappropriate with him a while ago. She is only a few years older than him, so I’m not considering any action, and there is no way I would discuss this with the family while they are busy with the wedding. But is it still OK to attend and have our son near this young lady? We’ve been vaccinated, so it would be hard to use COVID as an excuse to cancel. If we just went without our son, I’m sure that his absence would be noticed, especially by the bridesmaid herself.

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—Wedding Woes

Dear Wedding Woes,

I am so sorry that your son had this experience. I urge you to do a gut check and ask if you’d take the same approach—silence until, at least, when the wedding is done—if this were a daughter and an older boy. How does your son feel? Would this be a triggering reunion, or is he simply grossed out by this person and/or her actions? Was he threatened? What does all of this mean to him? As a woman, I have learned since girlhood how to survive in the presence of people who have been sexually inappropriate with me; as a mother, I would not want my child to have to share space with someone who made them feel some of the resulting feelings I’ve had to manage.

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Continue to let your son know that he’s not responsible for what happened and that he needn’t be around this person if he does not wish to be.

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I think it would teach this young woman an important lesson to see you come in without your son, and for you to tell her why (“Something happened between you and Michael that made him very uncomfortable. For that reason, we decided that he wouldn’t attend.”) I also think that you should make plans to speak to her parents once this event is done, if you aren’t willing to do so sooner. When people do not get the sort of behavioral corrections they need in their youth, they will only continue to do harm. She needs to own up to what she has done, apologize, and understand why she must not do such a thing in the future. Good luck to you and your son in making peace with what has happened.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a positive but not terribly close relationship with my sister-in-law, “Allie,” and a solid role as the cool aunt in the lives of my niece “Eloise” (13) and nephew “Adam” (7). The two kids slept in the same room by choice for much of Eloise’s childhood (despite technically having their own rooms), which may have started due to a fear of the dark when she was much younger. Now that she’s in middle school, she doesn’t want to share her room with her younger brother anymore, which seems eminently reasonable to me! However, Allie will tell Eloise that it’s her fault Adam still wants to sleep there, and encourage her to go along with it just to keep Adam happy. This conversation played out in front of me the other day, and it clearly wasn’t the first time.

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I’m really uncomfortable that Eloise is asking her mother for backup so that she can have a reasonable amount of privacy and getting nowhere. I’m also concerned about the message this sends about consent to BOTH kids. Eloise is hearing the message that she’s not allowed to change her mind, and she’s not allowed to refuse an invader to her physical space, while Adam is learning that he can have whatever he wants if he cries hard enough about it. I said something to Eloise herself in the moment (i.e., “You are allowed to choose who comes in your room and you are allowed to change your mind about it anytime you want”), but I want to address it with Allie so that the boundary stays enforced. How can I bring this up without sounding super judgmental and reactionary?

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—Autonomy Auntie

Dear Autonomy Auntie,

I wonder if Adam is afraid of the dark himself and your SIL has left her eldest to handle it without consideration for what it means for her own comfort. There are siblings who share a room out of necessity, but I agree with you that it doesn’t seem fair for Eloise to be tasked with having to deal with her brother’s need for comfort when she has her own need for space.
Politely advocate for her with her mother; ask her why the arrangement continues, considering that the children have their own bedrooms, and share with her that you’ve heard Eloise’s feelings on multiple occasions. Encourage her, again, as politely and unobtrusively as you can, to see it from her daughter’s perspective. Otherwise, there isn’t much for you to do here.

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I had an appointment with my therapist last week and learned through social media that she had died later that day in a terrible accident. I am completely devastated and heartbroken. I had been working through the abuse I suffered as a child with her for several months, and she is the first therapist that really helped me. We had similar backgrounds, and I felt deeply connected to her. She almost felt like a mother to me. As the condolences and stories have come forward, I found out that she had some connections in my social circle. I am so envious that they got to be friends with her. I also feel so left out of their shared memories, and like I shouldn’t be grieving because I wasn’t one of her real friends. I have an appointment with another therapist this week, but it feels like it’s too soon. At the same time, I need someone to talk it over with. I can’t share happy memories with friends, my family doesn’t get it, and my husband is getting annoyed with my frequent crying. Should I see this new therapist so soon? Also, would it be a bad idea to go to her memorial services?

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