Media, whether in the form of news, film, or image, has become significantly more accessible as more and more people gain access to the internet. One of the many forms of media that people, especially kids, look at regularly are memes. A meme is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as an amusing or interesting item or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media, and this definition clearly leaves a lot of room for interpretation. A wide variety of memes can be found on the internet, such as funny videos, captioned photos, or a reference to some recent event. There are significant positives and negatives to letting kids have extensive access to memes, but attempting to censor a child above the age of 13 from looking at these memes is not an effective way dealing with questionable content on the internet. While it is unrealistic to think that one can actually effectively censor memes from children without completely taking away their electronics, parents who approach the internet with a restrictive mindset need to reconsider the message that they are sending to their children.
It is naive to think that there is never anything wrong with some memes. Some are downright nasty and do not deserve the attention they get. These memes often contain gratuitous use of profane, racist, or socially unacceptable content. Unfortunately, due to how well “shock humor” does on the internet, some of these memes become popular incredibly quickly. Some children, even 13-year-olds, may not be able to handle this, and their vocabularies, unfortunately, could be influenced by these profane memes. If they say something unacceptable but are “just referencing a meme,” not everyone is going to understand that reference, and a poor choice of words could even put a child in danger.
Even if children do not repeat what they see, memes about intense events, like school shootings or 9/11, may desensitize kids as the memes pop up more and more on various forms of social media. It would be awful to cast these events off as trivial.
Memes, like all media, often contain biases, which is why kids need to understand that the people who create memes are not reliable sources of news. In addition, it is not uncommon for people with a large audience to try to alter people’s political views on the internet, and kids are especially susceptible to being influenced. While this is not inherently bad, dangerous ideas can be spread just as easily as any other kind of idea, especially if one can just pass them off as “a joke.” The risk of children picking up insensitive vocabulary, saying something that could put them in danger, not realizing how real some issues are, or picking up radical and violent ideas from memes may be too high for some parents. This is a legitimate concern.
On the other hand, there can be positives in allowing mature children to look at memes, even if they are political, offensive, or controversial. Any discussion of current events, even in a meme, can be a constructive addition to political conversations. The mere fact that people take time out of their days to make these memes shows that they are actually paying attention to current events and are willing to give attention to these topics. There are few to no memes, whether offensive or not, that directly display traumatic events as trivial and if the meme did it would receive heavy backlash. The life cycle of memes is not simply “someone makes one, someone looks at it.” Virtually every meme receives responses in some way, usually in the form of comments on social media platforms like Instagram, Reddit, or Facebook. These comments represent a diverse set of beliefs, so like the memes themselves, they promote mature and important discussions.
While no one should think desensitization is a good thing, there are no benefits from people constantly getting offended over what someone said on the internet. Instead, one should consider that memes can have an impact while also just being a meme, created by one person. Instead of holding them to such a high standard, one should respond to memes and argue for their own point of view. This, of course, requires one to actually look at the meme. Have offensive jokes not existed before the internet was made public in 1991, or the term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976? Getting incredibly offended over memes is unproductive since it will be impossible to have mature conversations that allow all voices to be heard.
Parents should grant their kids exposure to a part of the internet where memes are available. Parents should not necessarily pick and choose which memes their kids look at since that should be something kids grapple with on their own. City and Country School teachers do an excellent job in the XIIs and XIIIs when teaching their students to be skeptical about things they read, view on the internet, or watch. There may be other issues involved if one does not trust their 13-14 year old to navigate non-graphic parts of the internet. Why give these memes so much power over a child’s life, to the point that even looking at a joke off-limits? People need to consider that even humorous content should be taken seriously and that this discussion needs to be had.