Talking to Children About Toxic Masculinity
This blog will highlight the issue of toxic masculinity, in light of the popularity of controversial social media influencer, Andrew Tate. We will explain the implications for children and young people, what’s happening in schools, and what you can do as a teacher or parent.
It has been reported that a culture of toxic masculinity has permeated across social media, led by ‘influencer’ Andrew Tate.
Tate has become popular amongst young people (particularly boys), with ‘hype’ generated around his views and commentaries, which push ultimately sexist and derogatory ideas. Quotes extracted from his live streams have gone viral.
Tate’s following formed an unnerving corner of social media, and its impact unfortunately extends beyond our phone screens.
However, change may be underway. In December 2022, Tate was arrested for organised crime, human trafficking and sex offences. He has since been awaiting trial.
If Tate’s views weren’t enough to stir concern, his accused criminality makes it more alarming that so many young boys have looked up to him, and that Tate’s online presence spread with such pace.
Alongside the arrest, Tate has been banned from social platforms for hate speech. However, his impact lingers, with clips from his live streams still found circulating on social media.
Despite this shift, his effect on children has already started to develop.
The implications for children and young people
Tate’s popularity, and the culture of toxic masculinity, has particularly interested boys, including some as young as primary school ages.
The UK advocacy body, Hope Not Hate, which challenges social issues, reported that in 2023, 8 in 10 boys aged 16-17 consumed Tate’s content. The report also revealed that 45% of men in Britain think positively about Tate and what he stands for.
Well, Tate’s influence is complex, stooped in gender inequality and sexism still occurring today.
However, one reason which may explain Tate’s large following from young boys is the image he paints of himself as a rich and successful man with a glamourous lifestyle.
This depiction is enough to lure impressionable young boys, who are working out their place in the world and grappling with their ideas of what it means to ‘be a man’. Tate presents himself as having all the answers as a so-called ‘self-help guru’.
What’s going on in schools?
Teachers across the UK and US have told news outlets they are concerned with the effect Tate seems to have had on their pupils, particularly young boys and teenagers. Many teachers have reported feeling disturbed and upset by their pupils’ interest in Tate, and their repetition of his ideas.
Lola Okolosie, an English teacher, wrote in the Guardian that ‘At the school where I teach, colleagues expressed despair at just how far [Tate’s] misogynist messages had spread’.
There have been reports of urgent assemblies being held in schools, to outline the issue of Tate and toxic masculinity to impressionable pupils, and to reinforce issues like consent through RSHE sessions, to attempt to undo harmful messaging.
News outlets have also revealed that some children in the UK have been referred to Prevent Education Officers, following several cases of harassment towards female staff members in schools. Many schools have identified that the idolisation of Tate has underpinned this behaviour.
What have others said?
Dr Tim Squirrell, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said that ‘Tate clearly represents a risk of radicalising young men in to misogynistic extremism’.
Teacher Lola Okolosie continues in the Guardian, ‘If we do not tackle the issue with open dialogue, often and early, we risk allowing boys to fall under the influence of misogynists like Tate’.
The charity Women’s Aid has also reflected on the issue, stating, ‘It is important to remember the work that still lies ahead of all of us when it comes to calling out dangerous and misogynistic views, like those perpetrated by social media influencers like Andrew Tate.’
What can you do at home or with your class?
This blog is not intended to induce fear, rather to educate you as a responsible adult about what has happened, and aims to be proactive in suggesting ideas for what you can do in response.
Talking to primary-aged children
Take it back to basics
Many primary school aged children may be unaware of the likes of Tate, or the concept of gender inequality may be confusing for them.
Instead, centre your conversations on respect, fairness and kindness.
Ensuring children are aware of the importance of treating other people fairly, as they would want to be treated themselves, is an important foundation for preventing future issues.
Positive role models
Children absorb the behaviours and attitudes of the people around them.
Parents and teachers can make sure they set good examples of kindness and fairness, so children can learn from positive role models.
In school or at home, you could set goals with children to undertake random acts of kindness each day, or week.
This will contribute to your efforts of instilling fairness, equality, and tolerance in children from a young age.
Vet the content children access
Make sure your hard work of setting positive examples to children of fairness continues in their free time, and the content they access online.
Checking the content they access, such as videos on YouTube and streaming services, is a good start. Parents can set age restrictions on these platforms, to ensure children see appropriate content.
Parents could also suggest their children don’t use social media until the required age of 13.
Schools can contribute here by communicating with parents about the importance of ensuring the suitability of content children access.
Talking to secondary-aged children
Listen for potentially harmful ideas being voiced by children.
Sometimes, children do not know the full implications of the words they say, they may misinterpret what they’ve heard, or accidentally share untrue or exaggerated ideas. Children may repeat other people’s ideas or views due to being perceived as ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’.
Detecting this is an important step to undoing its impact.
Even if you haven’t detected children holding these views, education and modelling is a powerful tool to counter ideas, and could be seen as a preventative measure.
Show both sides, such as the reality of Tate’s crimes and that sexism is unfair, no matter how ‘polished’ his views may seem on social media posts.
These discussions can be supplemented by ensuring children can learn from positive role models in school.
Try to develop children’s sense of empathy
Encourage children to think about the implications of harmful ideas, and who is at the other end of these arguments, e.g., women and the LGBTQ community.
Calmly discuss how it would feel to be the recipient of such attitudes. Promoting empathy and reflection may help children see the negative impacts of upholding and spreading these ideas.
Ask why (and anticipate defensiveness)
Try find out what makes these ideas and Tate himself appealing to follow. Knowing the root causes will help you unpick children’s behaviours and ideas, and help in educating them on the bigger picture of the implications of these views.
Often, people who are confronted on their views may react badly and turn to defensiveness – be wary of this in your approach, and avoid being reactive yourself.
Create research opportunities
Perhaps you could turn the related issues surrounding Tate and gender into a research project, to further educate your class.
- Research gender equality evolution throughout history
- Look at increases in women’s rights and equality acts/ laws
- Create case studies on groups such as the Suffragettes and Women’s Liberation Movement
- Explore the work of charities like Women’s Aid and the differences they make to women’s lives.