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An open letter to those with seventh-grade loved ones

By Eda Kamal, October 3 2023—

To whom it may concern,

My little brother, a seventh grader, engages in very different activities online than I do. He’s always telling me about Roblox drama or a certain YouTuber I’ve never heard of. I’m accustomed to not knowing what on earth he’s talking about — so it surprised me when he asked if I knew who Andrew Tate was. At the time, Tate was rising in popularity on social media (which my brother does not have access to) for content directed towards male empowerment. 

However, as I observed, the messages depicted in the videos were less empowering to males and more vicious towards women. In fact, Tate was charged this summer on counts of rape and human trafficking. Certainly not a person preteens should be idolizing. I asked how he knew about Tate and he told me his classmates followed his content. He went on with his day as usual, but the conversation left me with a strange taste in my mouth. I had only seen bits and pieces of Tate’s content through Tiktok, smattered with foul language and crude messages of misogyny and violence. Why were 12-year-olds not only accessing but accepting and rallying around this kind of content? I had conversations with my brother after this. He told me what he learned in school about feminism and I shared my own personal experiences with sexism. As his older sister, I saw a need to protect him from the influences that would push him into extreme views about different people.

Not long after this conversation, I got a hold of my brother’s phone. He was away and it was constantly chirping with messages, so I went to silence it. I found that the messages were from a group chat of boys in his class, having a conversation about their moms and sisters. One boy would send a picture of a female family member and the rest would mock her looks, clothes and pose, while the first boy would complain about how annoying, nagging, whiny and how awful she is to deal with. My brother didn’t participate in this particular conversation and I confided in our parents, who had him leave that group. Yet, I continued to think about my little brother and his peers. These children have been alive for barely more than a decade and already many of them have found a sense of humour, relatability and perhaps even comfort in malice. My memory may be clouded by the nostalgia most young adults suffer, but I’m quite sure the divide and animosity between genders — while present — was not nearly as intense and frankly dangerous as it is now. I have to assume the rise of unrestricted access to social media among younger people has contributed to this, as there is no shortage of content directed towards this vulnerable age group carrying dangerous messages.

Earlier this month, a now-viral video was posted of YouTuber Sneako meeting young fans, probably my little brother’s age. Sneako has been known to spread alt-right ideology and extremist hate, as well as participating in incel communities. If you have never heard of this man, I am not surprised — his main demographic is younger teen boys. In the video, his fans approach him, saying “fuck the women”. The YouTuber looks taken aback by this and says “No, no, we love the women”. The young boys then go on to make extremely derogatory comments towards the LGBTQ+ community while taking a picture with their idol. As if it were a movie, Sneako looks sheepishly into the camera and audibly wonders “What have I done?”

I sometimes think about what my little brother would be like if he did not have a big sister constantly on his case about the media he consumes and the ideas he has about life. I want him to see the world and develop his own thoughts more than anyone, but simply being around boys his age at this time is quite dangerous. I wonder, if we hadn’t had those conversations about feminism, if he hadn’t forgotten his phone at home, would he be making fun of my looks, style and personality with other 12-year-olds? I have to hope not — he’s a good kid. But the mothers of the boys who met their YouTuber idol and the sisters of the boys in that group chat probably obliviously say the same thing.

He’s a good kid. He would never.

We have another younger brother — he turns four soon. A few weeks ago, he was fooling around with some big rocks in the backyard. When I went to pick one up, he told me (in the most coherent way a toddler can communicate) that I could not lift the rocks because I am a girl and boys are stronger than girls. I don’t know where he got this idea from, but he isn’t allowed to watch YouTube Kids anymore on my watch. He has been very clearly told that girls can do anything boys can do.

To whom it may concern,

It may not be your responsibility to raise your seventh-grade loved one and supervise their every move. But the fatal flaw in every 12-year-old — yes, even you, long long ago — is they wholeheartedly think they have learned everything there is to know about life. As much as they may deny it, they need someone to keep a watchful eye and guide them when they stray away toward a flaming pit they cannot yet see. These conversations are awkward, long, and frustrating — but necessary. Misogynist violence must be nipped in the bud, and this comes with awareness of what your seventh-grade loved one sees in their everyday life.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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