I saw the documentary American Teen over the weekend, and was shocked and saddened at the casual cyberbullying that took place. The film follows five Midwestern high school seniors for a year, and one of them, Megan, the richest and most popular girl in school, viciously mocks a "friend" who was naive enough to send the boy she liked pictures of her topless. Megan not only sent the photos around to everyone at school, but she called the girl on her cell phone to tell her what a heinous slut she was. Well, not all teens are that callous, even in the internet age, and sisters Emily and Sarah Buder are teenagers who won't make you weep for humanity.Two years ago, they heard about a girl in a neighboring Northern California town named Olivia Gardner who was cruelly bullied to the point where she was near suicide. "Her book bag had been dragged through the mud, her schoolmates had created an "Olivia's Haters" page on the internet, and they would whisper "Die Olivia" to her in the halls," the Buder sisters wrote earlier this month on the Huffington Post. "Olivia's story broke our hearts, especially when we learned that she was suicidal. We couldn't imagine such cruelty." They organized a letter writing campaign for Olivia so that she would feel less alone. And letters from near and far started pouring in. "Suddenly, we were thrust into the world of bullying, as we read the letters sent to Olivia by former bullies and targets of these bullies. We learned of the remorse adults felt having been bullies themselves in their teen years, and of the depression the targets of bullies still experience years after they have been bullied," the Buders wrote in HuffPo. Eventually they compiled the letters in a book that came out earlier this month, called Letters To A Bullied Girl: Messages Of Healing And Hope. Their book probably can't save all the Megan Meiers in the world, but it will probably make some of them feel less alone. Letters To A Bullied Girl [Huffington Post] "Letters To A Bullied Girl: Messages Of Healing And Hope" [Feminist Law Professors] American Dream [FourFour]
First of all, amazing girls. I wish more people brought up their kids with this kind of decency. It's sadly lacking.
It's always difficult for me to read about bullying because I end up 13 and depressed and confused again with hardly any thought. A lot of people dismiss bullying as no big deal, something kids just do, or worst, necessary. That it teaches kids to conform or learn their place, and other kids that they're stronger and better. Yes, I've really heard that argument.
The truth is, no two kids react the same way to bullying...and not every bully reacts the same way to being stood up to. I tried ignoring it and it got worse. So I tried standing up for myself...and it became unbearable. When your bully is really an abuser in a child's body there's not a lot that can be done unless an adult steps in and does something. In my case, that didn't happen.
I think it's almost impossible to prevent all bullying, because beings like to find differences and put them down. They like to categorize people, feel superior, and find ways to mock or hurt. Children are not inherently "good", they're inherently inexperienced. And they'll do all kinds of terrible things to one another if they aren't checked, taught differently, and had those lesson reinforced and repeated. Numerous studies have shown that children (and teens) need to learn through repetition.
People need to teach their children about bullying and how to defend themselves (tell someone, often, and if you don't get help, yell louder)...how to deal with bullying and not let it get to you personally (much tougher, as not everyone is born with inherent stores of self-esteem)...but more importantly, we have to teach kids not to be bullies. We always, as a society, put most of the responsibility for something on the victim...when they can't prevent what I think is predatory behavior. You can tell your kids how great they are and how much you love them and all kinds of ways to dealing with that sort of thing...and that's great. But until we reward decency more than abuse it's not going to change.