Care and Feeding

I’m Afraid My Teenage Son’s Headed Down an Alt-Right Rabbit Hole

I can’t be at his school to watch over him.

A young adult on a laptop in front of an illustrated background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Oksana Dolgikh/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son (15) is taking the first steps down the alt-right rabbit hole, and I don’t know how to stop him. He wants to join a group at his school, billing itself as the “James Madison Society.”  They mostly seem to be styling themselves as free speech advocates, and rail about supposed examples of “cancel culture” on campus.

I’m old enough to know that “free speech advocate” is simply a cover for alt-right hate speech and that cancel culture does not exist. And naming a group after a hypocritical slave owner is simply disgusting. I’ve categorically forbidden Evan from joining this cult initiation group or from participating in whatever activities they do. But I can’t be there in his school to watch over him, and my call to the school administration had one of their people saying they wouldn’t keep him from joining a valid student organization. About the most I can try to do is monitor his computer usage about the subject, but he’s a lot more tech-savvy than I am, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be able to circumvent anything I can come up with. What can I do to stop him from ruining the lives of himself and others with this vileness?

-Stymied

Dear Stymied,

Sadly, this is becoming much more commonplace nowadays, and my heart goes out to you for having to witness this in your own home. No, you can’t be present at your son’s school to monitor his behavior, but you have 100 percent of the control in terms of what happens in your house.

First you need to determine if this is a dangerous alt-right cult or just a group of conservative kids sharing their opinions. If it’s the latter, then I wouldn’t be too concerned about it, because differing opinions are healthy and normal. However, if he’s using this group to be a racist and a bigot, then you need to take drastic actions.

If I were you, I’d take away every bit of access he has to the internet and social media until he agrees to meet with a therapist regularly. That means no cell phone, no video game consoles, and no personal laptop unless it’s used to do schoolwork. Regarding the personal laptop—you mentioned that your son is tech-savvy, but you can recruit an ally who is just as knowledgeable online (or more so) than he is to ensure he doesn’t find any loopholes to connect with his misguided buddies when he’s using his computer. That could be a friend, colleague, etc., but those people are definitely out there if you look hard enough for them. Once he’s in therapy, he has to agree to take it seriously. In doing so, hopefully he’ll realize that joining these fringe groups based on hate and fear isn’t going to help him in the long run.

The problem that isn’t addressed is what you’ll do about the other kids in his school who are influencing him with the same beliefs. Depending on how serious you are about saving your son (and I’m assuming you’re very serious since you’ve sent this letter), you may need to consider pulling him from that school and placing him elsewhere. Granted, that’s the nuclear option, but it could serve to be an effective last resort if his school refuses to shut down a potential hate group on its campus.

Fighting against this type of ignorance isn’t easy, and it’s going to require you to take some pretty drastic measures to do it. I know you’re built for it, because nothing should be more important than keeping your precious son safe.

—Doyin

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