Dubai: Think your teenage son is scrolling through harmless, funny videos on TikTok? Think again. Your child could be watching influencers like Andrew Tate, who might be undoing everything you are teaching your son about respecting women. Tate, with 1.4 million TikTok followers and 3.4 million Instagram followers, has recently come under social media fire for spreading misogynistic ideas.
After a huge backlash on social media for allowing content from a “violent misogynist”, TikTok finally disabled Tate’s account this week. On Friday, the social media company Meta also announced that it had removed the controversial influencer’s accounts from its Facebook and Instagram platforms.
However, plenty of Tate’s videos and fan accounts continue to exist. His videos teach boys and youngsters that it’s okay for men to control women and to be violent towards them. Unfortunately, his young fans say, “he’s turning boys into men”.
On August 9, makeup artist and influencer Matt Bernstein posted an image on Instagram – calling out TikTok to "do something" about former boxer Andrew Tate's talks centered around violence and misogyny. The post now has over 1 million likes on Instagram, with many others sharing the post.
As the mother of a nine-year-old boy who is quite handy with social media, I am angry and shocked. Andrew Tate's TikToks are dangerous for young boys.
Who is Andrew Tate?
Emory Andrew Tate III, a former Big Brother UK contestant, became a content creator after he retired from kickboxing. He became well-known for making provocative claims on subjects like sexual assault and harassment. His thoughts are often blatantly sexist and dangerous to be published on the internet, but videos of him have been viewed nearly 12 billion times, according to international news reports.
He is known for sharing views that suggest women should be staying home and caring for a man while he goes out, works and spends money on her. In a previous quote, Andrew Tate was heard saying that he views his sister as her husband’s property after she gets married. His videos also show that he believes in the inferiority of women.
As soon as I found out about Tate, I showed a picture of him to my son and enquired if he recognised him from videos that he had seen online. I think I felt relieved that my child, who is not on TikTok yet, had no clue who he was.
But, once he turns 13, he will be eligible to join social media platforms. And, how long will I truly be able to control the kind of content he is viewing?
Here I was, getting excited at small wins – when he treats the girls in his group of friends with respect, when I see him stand up for a friend being bullied, or when his teacher says that he is well-behaved. But, how will I raise my son to grow up into a man who is respectful towards women or others in general, when he might have access to such hate-spewing influencers like Tate, who believes that women who have been raped “must bear some responsibility”?
Tate seems to be undoing the many years of effort put in by women across the world in our ongoing fight against gender disparity and for women’s rights. It infuriates me as an Indian woman, who has seen scores of women in my country fighting misogyny, toxic masculinity, and gender violence. But, how to help my child navigate this kind of content?
UAE mums react
So, I spoke to other UAE mums to find out what they thought, and the challenges they face when raising boys in the age of social media.
Dubai-based Filipina mum Abigail Caidoy said: “I am disgusted with Andrew Tate’s words and attitude. It’s sad too that he is living with this kind of mindset… to think he has a mother and a sister.”
Leading by example
Caidoy, who is also a blogger, added that it is essential for parents to monitor what their children are doing online. “We have established ground rules on how our kids use social media, one is that we parents have access to their accounts. My son, who is 14, has Instagram, YouTube, and gaming accounts, which both my husband and I have access to. The gaming PC is set up in our living room, so that we hear and see what’s happening. Although, the reality is that we can’t monitor what they do online or offline 24x7, establishing open communication and setting an example is important.
“We make an effort to step into their world to understand where they are coming from on how they express themselves. For example - my husband knows how his online games work, and sometimes I sit and let him explain to me how his online stuff work.
“We also try to lead by example. My husband along with the men in my son’s circle, treats us, women, with respect. He has a younger sister and we always remind him to be a gentleman - give her respect, treat his sister as an equal.”
Monitoring social media activity
Tripti Sharma, another mum who is quite active on social media herself, has a 16-year-old son. Sharma said: “I follow bloggers on Instagram, and saw the mention of Andrew Tate’s posts. It instantly made me angry and I checked his videos. The thing is, his comments are blatantly sexist, but the way he presents them, a young person would feel like it’s okay to think the way Tate thinks. Tate constantly makes it look like young men are being taught to be less masculine. I think this will confuse young boys, whose parents are teaching them that it’s alright to be emotional and the importance of respect. He is mixing ideas of masculinity and disrespect towards women in a very irresponsible manner. He might be doing it to keep up the millions of views he generates for the mere shock value of his comment, but I am scared if my son were to follow him and agree with him.”
The Dubai-based Indian mum said: “It’s challenging for parents to monitor children all the time, especially with social media becoming an important part of their lives. There is a certain level of freedom you have to give your children as they grow, but these kinds of social media influencers make you worried when giving your child the freedom to use social media. When parents are busy, they might ask children to use their headphones when they are gaming or listening to music or podcasts – I have done it too. But, this is what they could be listening to. And, if you are not aware, you could be raising a person who ends up being disrespectful and misogynistic. I would feel like I failed as a mum if my son thought the way Tate thinks. “
Dubai-based Indian mum, Arzoo Patel, added: “Raising a son in the social media age is difficult. I have to monitor what he is watching and what kind of influence he is getting from social media. I use parental control on his device and check his internet history constantly.”
Spend time with children
Women, especially mums around the world are petitioning TikTok to take down content posted by Tate.
British mum Laura Everest, who lives in Dubai, said: “I am horrified to read this! I firmly believe that social media platforms should take accountability for what they allow - surely this rubbish violates boundaries. I share every parent's concern about the harmful effect of this type of content on young boys - and girls. I'm very grateful that my son, who is now a 22-year-old pilot, was always highly responsible using social media and thankfully more focused on sport and aviation, compared to these dangerous, so-called ‘influencers’.”
Sharing her own experience about raising a son in the age of social media, she said she focused on spending more time with her child to keep him offline: “We would speak about the dangers of social media, but as parents, we encourage our son to take an active role in the real, face-to-face world, rather than an online version. We spent a lot of family time together; consequently, our son was far more interested in taking part in sports and other activities with us and his friends, and these took precedence over spending time on social media. Spending family time together and instilling family values is highly important for our children.”
Answering your child’s questions
A Sharjah-based mum, Margaret M. said: “I have two children, my daughter who is the elder one of the two, is very active on social media, including TikTok. I don’t want her listening to these kinds of influencers, and thinking that it’s okay for boys around her to behave like this, disrespecting her. I do periodic checks on my daughter’s internet usage and have regular conversations with her about what is okay to watch and what isn’t. I also tell her that people often share videos for social media likes and views, and not all information can be trusted.”
Margaret said that it’s always better to have an open communication path with your children, so they can come up to you and have a conversation about confusing information on social media. “Scolding your child when you find out they have watched something inappropriate or shutting down to uncomfortable questions might result in your child hesitating to come to you next time. I would do the same for my son while trying my best to ensure that he does not get influenced by people who think like Andrew Tate,” she added.