By Kathi Bliss
I’ve thought about it many times, and I’m not quite sure why I’ve never discussed it before. I guess, like most adults, I’ve tried to convince myself that things aren’t really that bad – that kids aren’t all that different now than they were when I was a teenager, and that these days, kids just take things too seriously.
And then I woke up on Tuesday morning, checked my social networking site and saw a message from my 14-year-old niece in Ohio. There, while I was drinking my coffee, I saw a child far too young to have to do so bidding farewell to a schoolmate of hers who’d taken his own life overnight as a result of bullying.
A few entries later, I saw her mother, my own mother, and several other “grown-ups” trying to reason this thing out, trying to make sense of it, and trying to – somehow – figure out how we, as the adults, can stop this thing. It’s already bad enough. And those of us that are grown, and who are supposed to be the “role models,” have to find a way to stop it before it gets any worse.
Some weeks back, a few of my young “friends,” children of adults with whom I socialize, found themselves in a bit of a snit. One young lady, a delightful girl in her own right, got her feelings hurt, and used her social networking page to lash out. A conversation which, when I was a girl, might have been between two or three close friends at a slumber party, became a very public, very venomous conversation, literally within a matter of moments. It was almost as if my young friend and her other friends were feeding off one another’s negative energy, and not stopping to think for a moment that not only her mother, but the other children’s parents, as well as any number of other adults in our circle of friends, were watching the whole thing develop in living color, in real time. These children, once close friends, were saying things to and about one another that I feel reasonably certain they would have never said if they were in the same room.
The parents intervened in short order, of course, and brought the conversation to a close, and the situation to a halt.
And that makes us all lucky.
I remember what it was like to be young. I remember, more than once, being the subject of bitter scribbling on a bathroom stall – and the fact of the matter is, I remember doing my fair share of that bitter scribbling about others. The difference, I think, is the fact that those scribblings may have been seen by two or three dozen other people…
When our kids scribble on their Facebook walls, their musings are there for the world to see – literally. Those thoughts and insults, that upset and angst, is fodder not for dozens, but for hundreds of others… all in the blink of an eye.
Rumors that we only thought spread like wildfire when we were children, passed from one bedroom extension to another, one conversation at a time, can now spread with the speed of a late-night locomotive, thanks to group texts, group emails, forwards and Facebook walls.
And the bigger problem, I think, is that because we so frequently interact online, and so rarely interact face-to-face, we no longer register how hurtful our words can be.
Our sons and daughters don’t have to look other children in the eye when they call them a “bad name.” They don’t have to see the look on another child’s face when they hang their head and walk away. They don’t have to watch another child choke back tears because of something they’ve said.
Perhaps we should make sure that they do. Maybe it falls to us, as the adults, to make sure that our children understand the power their words can have, and the pain those words can inflict.
And above all else, it falls to us to make sure that our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews, our grandchildren, foster kids and young friends understand that “different” does not mean bad – and that “different” certainly doesn’t mean unfeeling.