Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mean Girls

A couple years ago, the children and I read a wonderful, bittersweet book called The Hundred Dresses. I feel like this short novel should be required reading for every child and parent. It's a touching portrait of schoolgirl dynamics, told through the eyes of a girl who feels caught in the middle, who joins in the taunting of an immigrant classmate against her better judgment and lives to regret it. In the end, all the girls realize the mistake they've made in belittling their former classmate, Wanda. Fortunately, their lesson comes at a less-than-mortal price for Wanda or themselves.

Sadly, for kids like Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts, any regrets on the part of her tormentors come too late. This fifteen-year-old Irish immigrant hanged herself after relentless cyber- and in-person-bullying by the Mean Girl clique at her high school drained her of the hope and self-esteem that's already so fragile in teenage girls.

The morning news played clips from an angry parents' meeting in South Hadley, where over 300 parents convened to express their frustration and grief at the situation. One father spoke with no apologies: "I am angry at the parents who are raising these monsters. Parents: DO YOUR JOB."

Y'all know that I strive NOT to be the parenting police. There are no perfect people living on this farm. But. In this case? Hear, hear!

It boggles my mind that human beings of such a tender age could be so devoid of empathy, the foundation of the conscience -- even to the point of mocking her on Facebook AFTER her suicide (If your kid is doing that? I'm sorry, but YOU HAVE REALLY SCREWED UP somewhere along the line.). Does anyone else think it's crazy that state after state has to pass anti-cyber-bullying laws to protect teenagers from the worst sides of each other? Talk about the government stepping in to shoulder the responsibility of absent parents!

If, as a parent, I can manage to raise my children to hear their own voice in the midst of the crowd, to refuse the temptation to gain favor through meanness, perhaps even to stand up in the face of bullying, to let empathy, decency, kindness triumph over the desire for acceptance, I have done my job.

And if, as a parent, I can be someone my children come to when they're hurt, scared or desperate; if my children know where to find hope and help when they need them and that the words of bullies do not represent the truth about who they are, I have done my job. If I can teach them to use social media (when the time is right) while protecting or disconnecting themselves from others who abuse it, I have done my job. This means I cannot throw up my hands and say, "Oh, kids these days and their computer stuff! Who can keep up with it all?" Answer: YOU, Mom.

My aunt, a woman I admire immensely for energy and spirit of perpetual learning, teaches middle school history. She also teaches those middle schoolers all about social media and its responsible use -- how to use privacy settings with vigilance, how to ward off cyberbullying, how to report signs of abuse. To do this, she stays one step ahead of them on Facebook, on Twitter, in the blogosphere. I have greater respect than ever for the task she has undertaken.

For some kids, it may be matter of life or death.


cjoy said...

That is so sobering.

One of the many factors in pulling Little B out of public school last year was bullying. In 2nd grade, he had a list of kids who bullied him. I did not realize what exactly was going on other than a few very minor comments...but it came to a head when another kid had him in a headlock in the bathroom...and believe me, I got heftily involved at that point!

We have to stand up for our kids and at the same time teach them boundaries and how to respect others. No, it's not easy. But, it's our JOB.

Vanessa said...

Terrible. I hope and look to the Lord to raise my children to love all human beings. I think if we raise our children to love the Lord, everything else will fall into place.

Amy Tague said...

I am SO glad you said what you did.. and in no uncertain terms. I definitely do not think parents are being held accountable anymore and voices like yours are so needed!

Melissa said...

It's hard for me to read things like that, having daughters of my own. It's sobering -- there are *so* many people out there who aren't doing their job as parents, and it's my kids that are suffering for that.

I suppose all I can do is love them, teach them and hope and pray for the best.

BTW, that book was one of my favorites as a kid.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thank you. I am tired of the excuses. It takes courage to parent, I know that. It's very, very hard. What I don't get is when I hear otherwise thoughtful parents give some variation of "What can I do?" when it comes to their responsibilities.

When I was in 8th grade, there was a terrible bully who was a ring-leader in tormenting a number of his classmates, including me. When his teacher called up his mom to talk to her about this guy, the mom said, "Well, you can't expect him not to go along with what his friends are doing."

Inez Yarborough said...

Hannah, this post really resonated with me. I think this sort of relational aggression continues on with some mean girls until adulthood and beyond. It just gets to be another unexamined lifestyle. Your blog is really touching my heart today.

Julie said...

I have survived through this kind of bullying when I was in high school. All things happen for a reason and it is partly because of this that I am homeschooling my children. There wasn't even twitter or facebook back then, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was constant, it was everyday, it was horrific. I thank the Lord that He brought me through it and maybe He used that to put my children on a different path that will end up saving there lives as well. If that is the case it was of course more than worth it.

Julie said...

P.S. I just wanted to be sure that no one thought I implied that sending your kids to public school would be life threatening for them, I believe that the Lord puts each of us on the path we need to go on and if we just listened to Him everything will fall into place, the bullying I experienced is only part of why I am homeschooling, and much as I was in the Lord's hands when I was in school, I know the rest of His children are as well. I know if I ever have to put my children in public school it will be the path the Lord wants them to take. I just want to make sure I didn't offend anyone by any misunderstanding!:)