I’ve been back and forth with writing this piece. I haven’t known where to start, what to say, how to get my point across without shouting, cursing, or crying. I had sort of decided with this blog that I was going to venture into anything too serious, but I think this is important to talk about.
So I will.
Let me start out by saying that an hour ago I was furious. I was one step away from throwing expensive pieces of computer hardware across the room. I wanted to hurt someone. I went for a walk, took some deep breaths, and tried to patch together what I wanted to say. I hope this will make me clearer as well. It is important for me to get my point across rationally and calmly even though right now I feel neither rational nor calm.
This afternoon I read something that really bothered me. I’ll share it with you:
The truth of it is, calling the cruelty that kids show to one another, based on race or gender identity or class or any other imaginary difference, by a name like "cyberbullying" is a cop-out. It's a group of parents, school administrators and lazy reporters working together to shirk their own responsibility for the meanspirited, hateful, incomprehensible things their own kids do.
I actually was somewhat on the same page with this article until I got to that little gem. On one hand, I found common ground with the idea that bullying is terrible and we don’t really need to put cyberbullying in its own category. On the other hand, the sheer fact that one is not standing face-to-face with the person he or she is bullying, much like the white sheets of the Klan, give bullies a sense of invincibility that turns school yard taunting into something so savage, so vicious, and so devastating that it can and does become deadly. The position that giving a name to a very real phenomenon is shirking our responsibility to our children makes my stomach churn.
Kids are mean. Teenagers are horrendous. My idea of hell is that it involves being a fifteen-year-old girl for eternity. On the formspring page of one thirteen year old girl I know, someone had written that she was too ugly to be seen in public. She was just a dumb bitch. Yeah, there are some kids who would have said that to her face. This one didn’t. So you know what, I’ve got no idea if I’ve failed that kid. I’ve got no idea if I’ve shirked my responsibility to that kid because I don’t know who it is.
Cyberbullying is viral. It is instant. And in the case of six (that we know about) young people the past few weeks, it became fatal. Teenagers are like pack animals. There tends to be an alpha who sways the group. So what starts as one person calling someone a fag, turns into ten people calling him a fag. How many times have you asked a kid, “Why did you say that?” and she says, “I dunno.” You know what? She’s probably right. She probably doesn’t know. She just acted out of self-preservation to avoid the scrutiny of the pack. So then it turns into sharing embarrassing stories about someone on Facebook. It turns into posting embarrassing videos on YouTube. So am I still failing my child because I can’t get a video taken off a website quickly enough to avoid fifty people seeing it? Oh, but it’s only fifty people. Yeah, and then the other ten each of that fifty tell about the video, and then the other twenty those ten each tell.
I hear teenage girls talking about wanting a gay guy best friend to go shoe shopping with as if he’s some trendy accessory, a toy poodle to stick in a tote bag. I hear women in their twenties call each other whore or hooker—at work—as if those are terms of endearment. You want to know how many times I’ve heard that something someone has said online has contributed to a teenage suicide attempt? Do you? Because it’s going to take a while, so sit down.
And you know what? You can sit back and say that kids need tougher skins—oh, well, we played smear the queer every day at school, we beat the shit out of each other and we turned out okay. Buck up. Yeah, that may be. But your kids aren’t coming out quite as unscathed as you.
There is a kid out there—right now—who thinks he’s a freak. There are kids out there who think that because they are attracted to the “wrong” person that they are abhorrent, abnormal, sick, or worthless. Look, I felt miserable and alienated for years and I didn’t have the added pressure of having to come out to my friends and family. So I can’t call on my experience with that to say I know how hard that is. But I do know what it’s like to feel alone. I know what it’s like to feel like no one understands, cares, or can help. BUT IT’S NOT TRUE. All I know is that today, I went for a long walk so I wouldn’t put my foot through my computer. I know that sitting here writing this is letting me focus my emotions. What I know is that I WON’T FEEL LIKE THIS FOREVER.
And that’s really what I want to say. Sometimes it will feel messy an unfocused, like writing this does now. Sometimes it’s going to hurt, and I’m not going to lie about that.
But it won’t feel like this forever.
Here's a link to the Cyberbullying Research Center.