A Parent's Guide to Cancel Culture, Explained by a Teenager

In this post for our 'Teen Talk' column—articles written by teens to help parents understand what's really happening in their world—a teenager defines Cancel Culture and explains how parents can help their teens navigate it.

Canceled (adj.): to be over or done with.

"That celebrity is canceled." "Mr. Banks gave us a pop quiz and then he failed me, he's canceled." "According to my friends, I'm canceled because I don't have tickets to the concert." These statements might sound a bit crazy out of context, but if you are raising a teen, there's a good chance you've heard them. Welcome to Cancel Culture. It's the embodiment of being the judge of your own life, but mostly the judge of others. As a trend, you can call Cancel Culture the youth's way of digitally organizing—we stan, or obsess over something or someone we like and cancel those we do not. From "stan" to "canceled," the spectrum is wide but rapidly traveled—one careless action can take you from beloved to hated, and could end a career or a friendship. Teen spectators of everything from pop culture to politics bask in the power that lies within Cancel Culture.

Getting to know Cancel Culture won't just improve your understanding of your teens and their social experiences, but it will widen your understanding of the direction the world is going in… because the idea of being canceled can translate beyond the high school football field or college campus and into the workplace. Here's what parents should know about Cancel Culture.

Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

I Can Be Cancelled, You Can Be Cancelled, We All Can Be Cancelled

Cancel Culture moves quickly. It waits for no one and rarely warrants any explanation. The spectrum of cancelable offenses varies by individual and group. On the social level, another student could say something that offends your teen and they decide to cancel her. In the bigger pop-culture world, if some celebrity feuds with your teen's favorite singer, your teen may decide to cancel that celeb. Now that peer is no longer invited to Friday night's party and that celebrity might as well not have starred in the latest blockbuster. To your teen, they no longer exist.

All it takes is a small action to be deemed cancel-worthy, but being aware of your actions can help you prevent getting canceled, too. Once you're canceled, especially on a large scale, it can be hard to come back. Being canceled means everyone around you now questions their involvement with you, because in the eyes of the masses you now only represent the very thing that you were canceled for. Be it as bad as a racist comment found buried on a public figure's Twitter account or as trivial as shade thrown by a celebrity on a red carpet, that is now solely what the person canceled is known for.

While it's unfortunate that our world reduces people to one sole act, the level of accountability it sets on people is admirable. However, the dark side to Cancel Culture is navigating it on the smaller social level, especially once you yourself have been canceled. It can be even harder to help your teen navigate if they find themselves canceled.

How to Navigate a Cancel Culture World

Within teen social situations, most people are canceled for super-objective actions. They were too annoying at the lunch table or too nosey after a friend's breakup. There's no hard rule to what gets someone canceled, which makes it more than difficult to navigate. Cancel Culture turns human beings into shooting discs—totally fine one minute and then gone in the blink of an eye. But human beings, especially ever-evolving teens, are far more complex than Cancel Culture gives consideration for. With your help, your teen can navigate this tricky world, relationships and reputation intact.

Have an open mind.

Because Cancel Culture is so very fast it's vital to realize that if someone canceled your teen or even if your been canceled someone else, it was likely impulsive and not fully investigated. Cancel Culture does not define a person, rather it marks a moment in that person's life. Think back to the famous Mean Girls quote 'You can't sit with us'—it's not a permanent declaration, rather an impulsive decision by angry friends. In Cancel Culture, the moment will pass and it's a moment that is one hundred percent something you can recover from.

Find the silver lining.

Cancel Culture can seem very negative, but this teen-created concept can bring forth positive changes in real life. One of the greatest things young people have banded together to cancel is the normalization of things that were never okay. Teens have canceled rape culture, racism, sexism, climate change, and the thing that has taken millions of teen lives: gun violence. What started as Cancel Culture has led to national movements and if nothing else, that's a reason to be proud of Cancel Culture and teens' active and fearless ability to use it.

Learn from the experience.

The best thing about Cancel Culture is that it's not permanent (even if it may feel like it is at the moment) and it's not universal (even if your teen's social circle feels like their entire world). I remember once being canceled by my own friend group for still watching Disney Channel while they were on to MTV and VH1 ahead of me. I survived it, I evolved, and I moved forward. To be canceled is normally by one or a few specific groups—just remind your teen that it's not by everyone and not forever. While rapid and ruthless, Cancel Culture is real and relevant. It's not going anywhere soon, so it's time to get to know it.

Alexia Lewis is a student at Hampton University majoring in Political Science. Alexia is a passionate change-maker and hopes to continue to fight for the greater good as a socio-political global game-changer. Through writing, speaking, and hard work, she's determined to make a difference.

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