No doubt most of you would turn to Slate’s “Care and Feeding” column if you were in need of advice for your child. Sure, the brilliant and rational Emily Yoffe no longer gives advice as Dear Prudence, but where else would a loving parent turn if they had a difficult issue? Well, perhaps SJ can help too, offering solutions that may not have occurred to Doyin Richards. It’s worth a shot, right?
Care and FeedingSimple Justice,
My son, “Jack,” 14, has been maintaining a spreadsheet that tracks all of his classmate’s problematic actions. Jack has always had difficulty fitting in, but he is a compassionate and intelligent boy. We do not allow our children to have their own computers to prevent the risk of them being radicalized by alt-right websites, so our kids share a laptop that we monitor and control access to. We found an excel spreadsheet in Jack’s folder that listed the names of all of his classmates, as well as dates and descriptions of their problematic behavior. Some of the descriptions I saw include “has a mom who is a cop,” “no pronouns in insta bio,” “laughed at a fat joke,” “lists problematic show as one of their favorites,” “mimicked a foreign accent,” and “used cis-normative language.”
While I am pleased to see Jack taking an interest in his peers, I get a weird feeling about his spreadsheet. As much as I don’t condone the behaviors mentioned, it seems a bit creepy for him to be monitoring his classmates. I also wonder what he is trying to do with the document. Another concern is that we are white and some of the kids on the list are Black. Given the long history of white people policing Black existence, I question whether Jack is the right person to be taking on this task and whether it would be more appropriate coming from a BIPOC person.
We have asked Jack about the spreadsheet and he denies involvement, but we know that it couldn’t be anyone else. Am I right to be concerned about Jack’s list? I don’t know that it is the best way for him to engage with his peers and promote social justice. On the other hand, I am proud of how committed he is to this cause and I don’t want to stop him from bearing witness to injustices within his own community.
—Problematic or Productive?
Richards’ reply was, to be frank, underwhelming.
Based on what you’ve mentioned here, his list does seem a little creepy. Kids at that age should be having fun, not documenting every transgression his peers are making.
A little creepy? Is that what it’s called when you’re raising a psycho killer? But that wasn’t what really concerned Richards.
Also, the fact that he’s blatantly lying about his involvement in creating this list should be a huge red flag. If everything is on the up and up, then what does he have to hide? I would personally call his bluff and say, “OK, if this spreadsheet has nothing to do with you, then let’s delete it.” If he raises a stink, then you know that something bigger is at play here.
It’s not the list, but that he’s lying about the list, that really burns his butt. But then there’s the good news.
On a positive note, there are far worse things Jack could be doing than this—and it seems as if his heart is in the right place by being in the corner of marginalized groups.
After all, if he walks into school and blows away his problematic classmates, at least he’s doing so for marginalized groups. That’s something to be proud of. As for the negative, that can always be fixed with a little therapy.
I just think the spreadsheet is something that could end up being bad news for him, and I hope you enroll him in therapy so an unbiased mental health professional can tell him the same thing.
Is this “advice” the right response to PoP, who may have had a hand in creating Jack’s issues? It seems we could crowdsource this at SJ and do a bit better. Do it for the children.