Sunday, March 18, 2007

This is what angry writes like

There was a story in the Chronicle yesterday about a girl who was bullied so much at her middle school that she changed schools - only to find out that her new schoolmates were friends with her former schoolmates and they started bullying her too. She is now being home-schooled because the stress was causing anxiety attacks.

It turns out that kids are using MySpace and Facebook to taunt other kids. I think I knew this, because walking past a kid at a library computer I saw that he was looking at a MySpace page on which the person's name had been changed to read, "This Girl Is A Waste Of Air's MySpace page!" The article really pushes the idea of "cyberbullying," which is people using email, IMs, and social networking sites to bully other people.

This article made me incredibly annoyed. The reason why? The advice given on "how to handle cyberbullying" is pretty much the same advice I was given for five years staring in 1978, and IT DOESN'T WORK. "Ignore it"?! "Ask them to stop"?! "Ask the parents to make them stop"?!

"Ignore it" - Yeah, easy to say. Not easy to do when they are in your face every day. I suppose you could avoid the social networking but avoid the kids at school? This particular girl is doing both, as her mother has blocked her MS page and pulled her out of school. But that's not an option for most families.

"Ask them to stop" - Why do parents, teachers, and other school staff repeat this advice? You can't "ignore them" and "ask them to stop" at the same time. And if you do ask them to stop, they have another tack to take when teasing you.

"Ask the parents to make them stop" - And face the consequences at school? Not to mention that usually there is no proof linking the bullies to the bullying, regardless of whether it is happening online or in person.

When I sent this article to a friend, she wrote back saying, "These 'adults' are idiots with this 'advice' that's about as good as Nancy Reagan's 'just say no to drugs' campaign!"

You can probably tell that I am intimately familiar with this experience. In fifth grade and in eighth grade I reported to the principal and a teacher of my school how really awful half of my classmates were to me, and no one did a anything about it. At home, I was struggling with making my mom believe that I wasn't just being melodramatic, and I felt that if someone like Sister Lyons or Mrs. Lujan corroborated my stories, I would get to change schools. Barring that, they could have spoken to the girls in my class (for all the good that would do), and let them know that they were at least being watched, but Sr. Lyons and Mrs. Lujan didn't do that either. If they discussed it with our other teachers, it didn't make them act any differently.

Unfortunately I do not think that there is any way to solve it, though teaching girls to express anger directly, as Rachel Simmons suggest in her book Odd Girl Out, might alleviate some (but only some) of it. People who have little power use the power they do have to put others down, and kids have very little power in the world outside of school. I feel now that I should have either refused to go to school at all, or actually got in physical fights in my class until I got expelled, even though I now know that there are mean girls everywhere. But I was a good girl who wanted to know everything and I was afraid of getting my ass kicked.

My friend is much more evolved than I and has forgiven the girls in her class, saying that she wouldn't be who she is today if she hadn't had the experiences she had, and she likes who she is today. I live in that space as much as I can (though, in general, forgiveness doesn't come to me easily), but when I read about it happening to someone else it touches that place in me all over again and I become furious on that person's behalf, as well as on behalf of my fourth-through-eighth-grade self.

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