In this cyber-age, meanness and bullying have been propelled to a whole new level. So how do today’s teens deal with the exponential nature of such harassment?
Many stand strong by using their voices for good.
Recently, two young women shared their stories with me. I’ve chosen to use pseudonyms, in part to protect these women from further harassment, but also because their stories represent those of countless others.
As an eighth grader, Laurel was sitting in art class when a girl said, “Hey, Laurel! I’m not sure if you know but someone made a ‘MySpace’ about you ...”
At home, Laurel typed in the link the girl gave her: “Laureleatstoomuch.”
What she saw broke her heart and is with her even now, in her college years.
"It scarred me to this day. Someone had taken my photo at school and made a completely fake page (with my information) saying really hurtful and hateful things about me. It's strange how I can't remember something I did last week but the those comments made years ago still … pop into my mind.”
Laurel knows through experience that “the Internet is a powerful weapon.”
Though she admits that the Internet itself is not “evil” but a tool that can be used for good or bad, she knows she will never be able to forget what was done intentionally, to hurt her.
“I will never know who made that site or said those hurtful things, but I do know that not one comment made or one picture that was posted changes who I am or who I will become.”
Perhaps that is true for Laurel, who was able to rise above it, but what about others?
Abbie is now in high school, but in elementary school she was made fun of because of her nose.
“Children called me ‘Pinocchio’ and other rude names. I haven’t told anyone about this because it was so long ago, and at the time I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
She admits that those mean things, even if sometimes said in a “joking” way, were examples of bullying.
The comments stung, and they stuck.
During her eighth grade year, she was the recipient of harassing text messages about “pointless things.”
"She told me — using a very colorful vocabulary — that I should quit the cheerleading team and that I was ugly. I responded without using a colorful vocabulary, explaining that I was not ugly and I wouldn’t be quitting the cheerleading team,” Abbie said.
In part because Abbie had taken a course on True Beauty (I had the wonderful privilege of being her teacher), she was equipped with enough affirmation to know her true worth, despite outright lies the media and others attempt to feed young women about what physical beauty must “look” like.
She knew her very real beauty, both physical and spiritual, and was able to say, “No. You are wrong. I am not ugly.”
Even so, the messages continued, and one day, she found herself crying in the bathroom. Her mother eventually read the texts. She immediately replied, threatening to contact the police if the messages to her daughter continued.
"I personally did not want this situation to go to the police; I didn't think it was that serious of a problem.”
But Mama Bear’s claws had come out, and she’d handled the situation as she’d seen fit. Abbie knew she needed her mom to be aware and on her side with this issue.
Abbie has had other situations she has had to contend with, even now in high school. How does she respond?
“Honestly, comments like these pop up occasionally, and I just brush them off,” she said.
Abbie feels secure in her personal value, but she also knows how much bullying can hurt. Touched by the story of Amanda Todd, the 15-year-old Canadian girl who committed suicide in October, only weeks after posting a YouTube video sharing the harrowing details of her online harassment, Abbie has a deep concern for teens who are bullied.
In her nine minute, black-and-white video, Todd uses pieces of paper with words in black marker to tell of her journey of cyber-stalking and manipulation, and her face is merely a shadow behind her words.
Abbie believes that teens need to know to get help sooner rather than later.
“If bullying is something that occurs in your life, or you know someone who has been bullied, please get help as soon as possible. Circumstances like Amanda’s can only be avoided with help from others.”
Parents: we must be vigilant in knowing how our children are using the Internet. As information unfolds in the Amanda Todd case, many believe that Amanda’s stalker was an insidiously sick, experienced “professional”
pedophile who determined early on to be unrelenting in seeking to ruin her life.
It is also prudent to caution our children against getting caught up in a cyber world where it seems like it is “no big deal” to say hurtful things behind the false-bravado-cover of screens.
For the potential bully, Laurel gives this warning: “Always, always think of how you'd want to be treated before you type that comment, tweet, status or message.”
It could alter someone’s future forever. That someone is the victim, but it could also be the bully.
One mother told me that when her teen’s car was vandalized, the kids posted pictures of the car, tagging everyone who took part. She printed off the Facebook pages and took them to the police. The teens were eventually prosecuted and made to do community service.
If only emotional damage could be handled so succinctly, so efficiently.