On a warm summer evening, more than 50 parents tuned in for the second of our Talking Heads webinars. Launched in the Summer Term in response to parent demand, the sessions aim to inform parents of the challenges their son’s face and provide practical solutions on how to help overcome them. Chloe Combi is well-known as a podcaster, writer, and futurist, and is renowned for her social commentary on the lives of Gen-Z and Generation Alpha. She has designed The Respect Project, our partnership with Downe House, and has led popular sessions for boys and staff at Radley over the last two academic years. We summarise her wide-ranging talk and share answers to challenging and pertinent questions from parents.
In her synopsis, Chloe asked three challenging questions: did you know that TikTok isn’t the most popular social media platform for teenagers? (Snapchat). What age does the average child first see a pornographic image? (Nine for boys, ten for girls). Do you know the difference between black pilling and red pilling? (References from the Matrix film about something young men can ‘take’ to change their stance and actions in retaliation to commonly held societal perspectives. Red pilling: to reject feminism and adopt an alpha male-like approach to life. Black pilling: a fatalistic and nihilistic notion that ‘it’s over’ because ‘inferior’ men have no chance of establishing sexual relationships with women). The constant evolution of social media and the increasingly secret lives that teenagers can lead is increasingly worrying to parents, and many feel ill-equipped to talk to their children about topics they don’t understand. Chloe’s expertise and her calm, measured approach to unpicking these challenges was evident from the off and met with cyber sigh of relief from the gathered attendees.
The evolution of the mental health conversation from a fringe issue barely discussed by men to an issue at the forefront of society is a hugely positive thing. However, there is still a hangover from the time when men bottled things up because talking ‘wasn’t the done thing’. The vast majority of teenagers, especially those at Radley, feel confident talking about their feelings with friends, teachers and their family; safe in the knowledge they will be listened to and supported. However, Chloe caveated this with her belief that we talk about mental health more because ‘many young people are just sadder than they were’. This manifests itself in different ways and stems from a range of factors, however Chloe felt that boys were left shaken by the anger around the Everyone’s Invited and the #MeToo movements. In her view, boys were horrified by the stories and the deep inequalities that clearly exist but felt powerless to make any meaningful change as they had been branded ‘toxic’ by society. This, she felt, was causing a troubling level of social anxiety in young men which was exploited by Andrew Tate (more on him later!) and explained why his rise was so meteoric.
University or No University?
There is an increasing number of young people – especially those who are highly academic – who are questioning the traditional pathway of university. This is driven by three key factors: the costs of university study, employers criticising course content and its role in preparing people for the workplace and a growing ambivalence about ‘uni life’. In her discussions with teenagers across the country, Chloe has seen a seismic shift in young people’s maturity around this issue with degree apprenticeships and other on-the-job training schemes now being viewed as ‘on par’ with university places.
Social media continues to evolve at pace. Chloe felt the audience was well-enough informed about the general challenges but gave a nuanced perspective about the social media lens, and how we look at the world through it. She noted the gulf between the way people present themselves and their true personality and feels that we should be more rigorous in challenging ourselves on how authentic our online behaviours and opinions are. She likened Generation-Z and their use of social media to the smoking generation of the 1950s who ignored convention until it became too late. Generation-A (those born after the year 2000) will benefit from the greater research into digital activity, and parents will likely become stricter and stricter as time goes on. Chloe noted that the world’s most successful technology entrepreneurs are amongst the strictest with their young children’s screentime.
Many parents will have heard of Andrew Tate, a former Big Brother contestant who has built a huge online following in the last 18 months, mostly through TikTok. Tate talks with great confidence about the importance of ‘men being men’ and adopting an alpha attitude. A worrying number of young men believe Tate is speaking truth to power, challenging what he believes is a culture where men have become weak and pathetic. Chloe eloquently described the emergence of Andrew Tate but focussed much of her time on how parents could talk to their sons about him. She emphasised that Tate should not be tackled as a whole, but by unpicking specific issues, advising parents to ask open questions about a broad topic and to then hone in on the areas with which they feel most confident challenging. It is incredibly important that boys don’t feel punished but supported as they explore and explain their perspectives.
We are grateful to Chloe for sharing fascinating insights into the life of teenagers and look forward to her continued work with our boys through The Respect Project. We will share details of upcoming events accordingly.