“Hey,” I say, all faux-casual-like, leaning against the doorframe that leads into the tv room. Two lanky fourteen-year-old boys look up from the couch where they loll contentedly. Across the room, the twelve-year-old glances away from his computer to see what’s happening. “So, um,” I realize that my casual act is not fooling anyone, but I press on, “have you heard of Andrew Tate?”
I can practically hear their eyes roll. And though I would not have said it was possible, they relax further back into the couch, bodies stretching. They are already done with this conversation I have just started. My oldest glances up languidly, “Yeah. Why?”
“Well, um…” I don’t know what to say. Maybe I thought they weren’t watching Andrew Tate? Or that somehow they wouldn’t know who he was. I hesitate. I want to say, please tell me you are not watching videos made by a misogynistic racist jerk, but that seems like overkill.
My fourteen year old gives me a withering look and says, “Mom, if you use the internet, you know who Andrew Tate is.” I do not tell him that I did not, in fact, know who Andrew Tate was until relatively recently.
“Do you watch him?” I ask. By now the 14 year old friend is joining the conversation. He smirks while my son sighs.
“MOM! It’s like, you can’t not watch him. If you watch videos his videos are there. He doesn’t even post them himself. He gets other guys to post them. They’re just there.”
The friend concurs, “Yeah, they’re kind of everywhere. You can’t avoid them.”
I take this in. So, yes, they watch Andrew Tate. Now what? “So, um, what do you think of him?”
The boys have had enough of my beating around the bush. They tell me that he’s obviously a racist and a jerk. They can’t quite come up with the word misogynist, but they know that what he says about women is not good. They watch his videos anyway and insist that they are not actually influenced. “We know what he’s doing,” they assure me.
I am not comforted, at least not right away. I don’t like this, my boys out in the wilds of the internet listening to jerks who say hateful things to preteen and early teenage boys.
I try to broach the topic again later, but my kids shut me down. “MOM! Just… stop worrying about this.” I tell them that what we consume affects what we think. They are stoic. I suggest that their brains are wasting energy on not believing this. They disagree. Finally, I let it drop.
The next day at dinner, my older son tells us that Andrew Tate has been banned from several social media platforms. We talk about whether or not other platforms should ban him. Mr. 14 says no. “If he hasn’t violated their terms, they should leave him up there. If they don’t want him there, they should change the rules.” My husband tries to push his thinking, to encourage him to consider when something should be banned. Mr. 14 is nonplussed. “You can ban what you want, but it’s not like it goes away.”
Dang. We continue the conversation, but he doesn’t budge.
For a week, they tease me with information about Andrew Tate. They tell me about his money and his cars. I respond by sharing the idea of the Bechdel test, by pointing out places where we encounter systemic inequities in our daily lives – should the prime minister of Finland be censured for partying? (Mr. 14’s take: “Probably most people who run countries shouldn’t really party.”) Should a female news anchor be fired when she lets her hair go gray? (He says, “I don’t think TV is a good choice of careers if you think they don’t care when you get old. They do.”) For a week, I worry that I should do *something*, although short of banning the internet, I’m not sure exactly what.
Several days into this, one of the boys yells, “Hey Mom, come quick! It’s another Andrew Tate video.” He bursts into hysterical laughter. And I start to get it. To them, Andrew Tate is a joke – he’s a show, and a stupid one at that. My kids are internet skeptics, completely unphased by the idiotic behaviour that shows up on their screens. They don’t believe that Tate has all those cars or even all those fans. They see him for what he is – a flash in the pan who behaves badly to get attention. They watch him when he shows up in their feeds, but largely to mock him with their friends.
So maybe what I was worried about is not quite the right thing. I can’t prevent my children from seeing things on the internet; there aren’t enough parental controls to stop the world from coming in. My boys aren’t any less at risk than other kids, but their generation has a different relationship with the internet than mine does. We’re going to have to negotiate this together, and in the meantime, I think the kids are alright.