Bullying Cyber?

Yesterday was a gray morning. Coffee in hand, I sat down for my daily dose of weather hunk Bob Van Dillen (Good Morning Sunshine, bada bing). Quickly even darker clouds rolled in to blanket my mind when I listened to the story of 15 year old Phoebe Prince. In case you haven’t heard, Phoebe took her own life. Sadly teen suicide isn’t really breaking national news. Phoebe’s story garnered national attention because she was a victim of school bullies armed with cell phones and Facebook pages. High school hazing has gone cyber folks and it’s terrifying. In fact there have been enough cases of tortured young souls seeking final escape that it’s been given it’s own pop culture colloquialism, “bully-cide”.

Even at 38, I carry around scars from my run ins with other children who found their place in the pecking order by feeding on my self esteem. Sixth grade girls where mean. By the time high school rolled around, some had honed their craft so well that they were quite nearly the embodiment of true evil, only sporting pompoms. New to their arsenal of ulcer inducing terrorism was their ability to recruit a coed co-op of sadistic followers. I was followed as I walked home by a truck load of classmates shouting out horrid names and threats that would eventually erupt into physical violence. I’d sit in my 6th period typing class and start to feel dread roll over me at the approach of that last bell, knowing they’d find me again. Shouts of “What you think you’re something? Skank!” were hurled my way on the trek to Mrs. Evanglist’s lit class. I had no clue what I’d done or how to stop this. Heck, I didn’t even know many of my assailants.

On the west side of the school, stood an entire bank of lockers near the math department that I avoided as though it were a lava field. This effected me so deeply that, years later, I’d visit my alma matter and still shutter at that plot of property baking in the sun.  Don’t get me wrong I had some great years in high school. Sadly they came only after my willingness to do almost anything, the least of which was the sacrifice of my own self image, to stop the onslaught. The pain and anguish of those years are things I still struggle with to this very day. Sure high school is long over. But, rare is the person that can endure years of being told how ugly, stupid, unworthy or promiscuous they are, no matter how untrue, and walk away unscathed.

My oldest daughter enters middle school next year and for the first time in my life I feel a deep and pervasive fear both for her and for me. How can I help her navigate these waters infested with teenage sharks all to ready to feast upon her sweet soul? Already she struggles with body image issues and her general lack athleticism. In her I see a potential follower. Someone fragile and all too easily hurt by the actions of others. I worry that she may be someone who will all too easily succumb to these terrors. My mother, a strong and intelligent woman, couldn’t save me this pain. How can I save my daughter? Where do I turn for help, what are the warning sings and where does involvement in her life cross a line into interference?  

I’ve often heard the argument that this behavior is a “right of passage”. As though it’s something we must all play a part in, in order to earn our certificate and be qualified to go on to adulthood. The perpetrators get a “bully” button and the rest of us get what, years of therapy? Sure, not everyone is going to like you and you need to learn how to navigate that fact. But it crosses a line when those who purportedly “dislike” you, choose to taunt you incessantly, interfere with your education, make you feel unworthy and unsafe not only at school but now no matter where you go. We, myself included, are a wired society. I can’t keep her locked away from the internet and expect that to fix the issue. In fact it has been reported that Phoebe didn’t even have a Facebook page herself. I already monitor my teen son’s Facebook page. I insisted he “friend” me with the understanding that I might see some “teen” behavior. So far, aside from a few f-bombs and a whole lot of “hawt chick” comments, there hasn’t been anything too disturbing. Girls though, we’re different, we’re sneaky and yes we’re mean. What’s a mom to do?

What roll can we expect the already over burdened schools to play? Do companies like Facebook have culpability here? Or is this an even deeper issue that speaks volumes about our society?  The victims of this “right of passage” are patted on the shoulder and told to deal with it. After all “it’s life”, right? Yet the ACLU comes running to the defense of detainees who must be afforded the right to not be subjected to cruel taunts and verbal abuse. Where is the protection for our children? Some already fragile who look to us for guidance and receive a “kids will be kids” brush off? Most especially how do we help our daughters? How can we as parents in social media make a change here? I refuse to believe that a country who can put a man on the moon, cure polio and make a tasty fat free cheese cake can’t find a way to make sure that there is never another parent grieving the way Phoebe’s are.

In finishing up this post it occurred to me that just telling my story and sharing my feelings doesn’t go very far towards changing things. I felt compelled to seek out some help, for me and for any of you who might also need a hand. The Online Mom is a comprehensive resource for parents dealing not only with cyber bully issues, but every day navigation of the digital world. Monica, the Online Mom herself, will be hosting one of her weekly discussion on Twitter this evening (Wednesday March 31st) from 9-10 pm eastern. More details here. If you think you might be interested in participating in an online or real world discussion about the issue of bullying, cyber or otherwise, please email me at chickennuggetsofwisdom@gmail.com  

14 thoughts on “Bullying Cyber?”

  1. oh hun… i hear ya. i taught middle school english for a few years before i got knocked up and it was astounding to me (and i'm only 28) how horrible kids can be to each other. and it's truly disheartening to learn that some of these kids think that bullying others to the point of harassment is the only way they find acceptance.

    hang in there mama!

  2. Great post!! It is real and even happens to our boys. My son had some problems his freshman year. He went to a city school after a number of years of homeschooling. He was innocent and became a quick target. We got very involved with the teachers and administration and it's amazing how they were able to turn things around. Granted he goes to an arts high school where one of the things they are passionate about is everyone being accepted for who they are…they work hard to create a team environment and have a no tolerance policy. I think all schools should adopt this type of outlook. He's thriving now and doesn't come home with his head hanging. He has friends. I don't know what we would've done if the school hadn't gotten so involved…I would've become GIJane Mama!
    I think we need to bring more awareness to this issue!
    Schools and adults need to stop turning a blind eye to it and brushing it off as "rights of passage".

  3. Wow. This so resonates! My own son has tics and it is a matter of time before the kids start getting cruel. A matter of time before they hone in on his ADD. A matter of time before his heart breaks and so does mine. I hope none of this comes to pass but I fear the worst for him. Thank you for bearing your soul and opening up. I have always loved and admired you for who you are. You are perfect in my eyes!

  4. Great commentary on a serious topic. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    I don't remember being bullied or bullying people, but I sure both happened. Being a clown helps avoid those situations, so that might have saved me.

  5. Thanks for sharing this heartfelt post. I don't recall many bullying events from my own childhood, but am deathly afraid of it happening to my boys. Thanks for sharing the resource. I luckily have a few years before cyber bullying becomes an issue but IRL bullying has already reared it's ugly head.

  6. The level to which bullies have heightened their game in our society is truly unbelievable. I never experienced much bullying and didn't have to sacrifice my soul to avoid it. I just always had a "this is me, eff you if you don't like me" mindset. I know that's rare. It seemed to keep the bullies at bay. Nobody wants to mess with a badass. I wasn't a badass. Not even close. I just knew who I was and figured I wasn't going to "pretend" to be something I wasn't to gain acceptance. To me if I had to say I liked things I didn't to be accepted than those people who expected me to like what they did, didn't really like me.

    Has the self acceptance translated from me to me kids? Not even close. My daughter has low self esteem. Body issues. Doesn't know who she is. Follows, and has to have acceptance. My middle son? Bullied in 1st grade for "liking" a little "brown girl". They pushed him in the dirt and kicked him on the playground because he was nice to the little girl from India that he thought was sweet and cute.

    My youngest is more like me. He marches to the beat of his own drummer. He doesn't care if you like him or not. If you don't someone else will. I am afraid for him the most though. The lengths to which teens will go today to bully would make him a TARGET. A challenge. *SIGH*

    Ugly world we live in for sure. But what's a mom to do?

  7. Wow! I just wanna wrap my arms around that teenage girl who went through so much hell for so long. It makes me ill to think you carried such a painful load all by yourself. I agree, boys can be mean, but girls can be just plain nasty! I often think back and hope that I was never awful to anyone. I am pretty sure I wasn't, but it would kill me now to have someone express they felt horribly treated by me in high school.
    My 11 year old is in his firt year of middle school and it has been just awful with some bullying and a lack of help and support from school staff. The key for me is that I ask lots of questions…if he doesn't want to go to school(which is almost daily), I ask why and then why to that reason. He is often so afraid to open up and that is what worries about all of our children. They need to feel safe with the adults in their life.

  8. I was the girl that didn't wear the cool clothes, had curly hair when straight hair was in, etc. It was further complicated by being the child of an alcoholic. One guy flirted so I would help him with civics class. Another guy pretended to go steady with me on a bet. I had one friend that I would bring home because she didn't care about that stuff, just about who I was.
    It took a long time to get past all that but I did. I think it still impacts my life in certain ways.

  9. Great post, but it brought back painful memories of my school days. I was a tall, very skinny, and goofey boy who wanted to be liked and never was. I was forced to do a lot of things that I didn’t want too by my brothers (play football, baseball, etc.) that caused me great bits of anxiety. I was bullied by some boys simply because I was an easy victim and the only one they could bully. I helped many others egos at the expense of mine. I’m probably the only person in the world that totally understands the Columbine High School thing. The only difference is in my day something like that would have been unheard of. Guns, other than cap pistols, were not a part of our lives.

    All I can say is ‘walk’ with your daughter through her school career. Don’t smother her, but watch and listen and be there with support.

  10. Bullying is just a horrible sport! I never got bullied too much that it scared me…only some threatening notes on my car a few times, which I guess is bad enough! But I do remember having to walk my sister home from school because some girls were threatening to kill her and even drew pictures of what they would do! I do think that girls are the WORST! My daughter is only in 3rd grade and is suffering already from the girls taking friends from one another and the inability to be friends with more than one person at a time. Small things, but they leave my daughter some nights with tears streaks down her face! I think that girls are more succeptible to having self esteem issues and these taunts only make it harder for them! I wish you all the luck with your daughter…wish me luck with mine! 🙂

  11. It makes me crazy that kids are so mean to each other. And what is even worse for me is that I see the parents of these bullies watch their kids do horrible things and go with the attitude that kids will be kids. Does anyone stop to ask where the kids learned that behavior and why the parents are not trying to teach them more compassion for their peers?

  12. AMAZING POST. As a mom of both middle school AND a high school daughter I can tell you IT IS AN ISSUE. I had to call a mom once on a text message sent to my kid that was the meanest thing I've ever seen in my life. We can't keep the bullies from our kids, we can only try to give them the coping skills to handle them. Not easy.

    Nice piece.

  13. Im dealing witht this already and my daughter's in SECOND grade. I would love to know why people think it's ok to torture other people. My daughter is not perfect but she just wants to be liked. I think this behavior is disgusting and more parents should talk to their kids about how much harm it can do. Not just now but for the rest of someone's life. Thankyou for this post!!!!

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