A mother asked AITA (Am I the A**hole) after she harshly punished her teenage son for his “disgusting online behavior.”
The distraught mom wouldn’t have taken away all of his electronics and showed him hours of documentaries had she not stumbled upon his social media interactions in which he spouted neo-nazi ideologies.
The Original Poster (OP) reached out to the Reddit community after her ex-husband called her a “horrible mother” and a “sociopath” for the way she punished their son.
“My son is 16, we can call him J. I’m a single mom, my ex and I split summers 50/50 with J.”
“A few days ago J was getting ready to meet a friend so he jumped in the shower. I came into his room to put some clothes on his bed for him to put away. His laptop was open to twitter.”
Her eyes were immediately drawn to a recognizable symbol.
“I like to give my son a sane amount of privacy, as my own parents heavily pried into my life and I resent them for it. I wouldn’t have paid much mind to his twitter being open had I not seen a big swastika as another user’s profile picture.”
“I went in for a closer look and was floored to see the kind of content in his feed. Neo-Nazi stuff, horribly racist and misogynistic memes, and off-kilter conspiracy theories.”
“I didn’t want to believe that this was something my son indulged in, so I visited his profile instead.”
She went down the rabbit hole and found out a lot about her son that she found to be repulsive.
“Maybe he was only following these people to defend those being bashed? My hope was crushed when I saw similar retweets and original posts from him making snarky and inflammatory remarks about several minority groups.”
“The final straw for me is when I saw his ‘tweets and replies’ tab, he was actually harassing Jewish users! I wanted to scroll down further but I couldn’t, it made me sick.”
She blamed herself for being a bad parent.
“I have always taught my son to be kind, tolerant, and respectful of everyone. I have no idea how this could have happened, I’ve failed as a parent.”
“I’d have never expected something like this out of him, he never showed any outward signs of being prejudiced. The only person I can think of that even remotely held these views is his dad, which is part of the reason why we divorced.”
“I thought J knew better. When J returned from the bathroom I demanded to know why he did these things. His response to me was ‘chill out, you’re getting triggered over nothing.'”
Her teen’s response prompted the OP to punish him with hours worth of educational material.
“I made him cancel plans with his friend and took all communication devices out of his reach. We spent the rest of the day watching documentaries about the Holocaust, civil rights, slavery and Stonewall.”
“He seemed somewhat apologetic and surprisingly underwhelmed about losing all of his gadgets.”
But her husband undermined the OP’s response to their son’s social media interactions, and now J is not responding to his mother’s calls and texts.
“The next day he started a week with his dad. I get a text from my ex-husband saying that he’d bought J a brand new smart phone and that what I did was irrational and stupid. I explained what J had done but he seemed not to care.”
“The rule in my house is that J must share his social media and email passwords with me. Until now I’ve never pried, but I keep them just in case.”
“Sure enough, I log onto his twitter account and he’s posting the same trash again. So I decided to put a stop to it, I was able to change the email on his account to my own and deactivate his account entirely.”
“J and his father are furious. I’ve been bombarded with several voicemails and texts from my ex calling me a horrible mother, a sociopath, and a dictator (among other things).”
“J is refusing to answer my calls or texts.”
“Did I overreact? I fear he’s learning to hate people he doesn’t even know. I’m distraught and I have no idea what I’ll do when he comes home next week.”
Anonymous strangers on the internet were asked to weigh in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
- NAH – No A**holes Here
Redditors noted that the ex-husband’s reaction would give the OP much-needed leverage in court if she wishes to seek full custody.
“NTA that’s almost worth revisiting the custody agreement over.” – JMLKO
“This is exactly the kind of irresponsible parenting (on the father’s part to be clear) that gets custody yanked permanently.”
“OP, absolutely bring all of your son’s twitter activity to your attorney and tell him to use it and your ex’s nonchalance about it to petition for a revisit of custody arrangement.” – DontMessWMsInBetween
This person believes the mother acted as necessary and implied the father is culpable of being a negative influence.
“OP took all of his electronics away and made him watch documentaries. She’s doing as much as she can considering the dad is at best, encouraging J’s behavior, and at worst, the one who taught him it.”
“Also, 16 is old enough to know that if you post that bull, you get consequences for it.” – sagpluto
“Even if the dad isn’t directly encouraging, he’s 100% enabling it.”
“Why in god’s name would he think buying the kid a brand new smart phone was the correct response to his son either larping as or becoming a nazi? This is infuriating!” – princess-sauerkraut
However, this person expressed concern that her discipline—in the hopes of yielding immediate results—might backfire.
“She’s going full throttle. His account will be deactivated, and he’ll just start another account that he’ll be careful to hide from his mom.”
“She made him watch documentaries right away as punishment, hoping for an instant turn-around, rather than spreading it out over weeks or forcing a real discussion.”
“I mean, who reaches age 16 without having heard of the Holocaust, the civil rights movement, slavery, etc.? He hasn’t, and documentary bingeing won’t turn him around on the topics.”
“She’s giving the impression of someone ‘triggered’ rather than someone looking to guide her son.”
“Heck, her first impulse was to take away one set of screens and put him in front of a better, more correct screen! I’m sure that’s how he sees it, anyway (though the ‘more correct’ will be sadly ironic in his mind).”
“It took a long time to get him to this place, and she can’t just yank him away bingeing PBS and hope for real reform.”
“I haven’t had the parenting experience to know what’s the best way forward, but I have had the life experience to know that it’s not this way. I hope she’s able to turn to a pro, since she’s whiffing it so far.” – mbbaer
“Yeah, there are actual evidence-based resources about how to talk to people at risk of/in the process of radicalisation, and they don’t include yelling at them about how shocking and disgusting their beliefs are (no matter how much they are).”
“It just enforces an us vs. them mentality, causes them to dig in further, and shuts down any remaining possibility of open communication. The kid needs careful help, empathy, and an alternative outlet for whatever urges drew him to alt-right stuff in the first place.” – abacus5555
In regards to obtaining full custody, the OP was advised to proceed with caution.
“Worth consulting a local lawyer over, but most judges will heavily consider J’s wishes at his age. So rocking the boat poses risks; OP might end up with less custody than she has.”
“Also, determining custody based on protected parental speech is controversial — I generally agree with this law review article finding it generally unconstitutional in the US. https://www.nyulawreview.org/issues/volume-81-number-2/parent-child-speech-and-child-custody-speech-restrictions/ .”
“Of course, some of the harassment might cross the line into unprotected speech.” – chi_lawyer
The OP posted an update thanking Redditors in assuring her that she is not alone with her approach and declared her next course of action.
“Moving forward, I will be speaking with a lawyer to determine whether or not J’s father’s behavior is something the courts would take interest in.”
“I can see now that my decision to remove all his electronics may have been harsh and I may have inadvertently fed into his beliefs my acting this way.”
“I am absolutely heartbroken right now and I’m at a loss for what to do when my son comes home from his dad’s house. I feel like I don’t even know my little boy anymore.”
“I’ve been seeing a lot of people suggest understanding and kindness over harsh punishment. I can certainly get behind this, but I want to do it right.”
“I’ve been researching both individual teen counselors and family counselors, I’m not sure which one is correct or if I should take J to both. Anyway, thank you all so much and I wish you the very best.”
The book Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination is available here.