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.