I'm only just catching up on some of these stories about Amanda Todd, the poor girl in British Columbia who made a few mistakes at an extremely young age, and was then tormented to the point of suicide. I am shocked, saddened, and appalled by the accounts of what happened to this young girl.
The fact is, bullying happens all the time. It always has. I'm a good person, and yet I feel guilt to this day because I know in the sixth grade I was sucked in with my peers, and I too treated a classmate poorly. I was not the instigator, but I certainly laughed when everyone laughed, and didn't make a move to stop anyone from treating this boy like crap. I'm just glad to know that as he grew up, he married and has a great job and is doing well. We were later somewhat in the same group of friends, so I hopefully have redeemed myself since. I also use it as a lesson learned, and try to live my life as respectful, supportive, kind, and loving to others as I can. However, especially being in the job I'm in now as a teacher, I still do regret being a Mean Girl age at 11, even just the little bit that I was. Age ELEVEN, before I could even really control myself, and I still have regrets. I'm sorry I ever laughed when the others laughed, I'm so sorry about that. I still did it then, and it's just reality. I'm a very GOOD PERSON, and yet I cannot let go of this memory of a mistake from my childhood.
You know what? I'm not perfect, and absolutely nobody is.
Bullying is just made so much worse now by social media, by people being able to say and do whatever they like while hiding behind a computer screen. It is so disappointing that kids are using the Internet this way, that they are somehow missing important education about appropriate online behaviour.
Let's face it though... there has always been mean words between kids and teens, and even adults. Always. This isn't an excuse for it, but it is reality. We need to keep working with our children and students all the time about the fact that words and actions hurt, but even while doing that... once they are together in a peer group and "survival of the fittest" kicks in for popularity reasons... mean words and actions take over. We need to consider how we live our own lives at adults... what are we modelling in front of kids? Are we ranting and raving about people in our life and how much we dislike them? If so, your kids are going to school with the mindset that they can also rant and rave about people, which then gets the mob mentality going with their friends, which then turns in to bullying.
We need to teach the following lessons to kids, from the moment they are born:
1) We are all UNIQUE and it is BETTER for human beings to be unique. So stop tormenting others just because they are different from you! I teach my students the following: "If we were all the same, life would be so boring! What would we talk about?!" -- my students repeat this, and seem to "get it" at least a bit. We have a very multicultural classroom, and there has been nothing negative said ever about cultural differences for example -- so this is working at some level, at least about race (a start). We don't HIDE our differences, we celebrate them.
2) Every single human being has the right to be respected. They have the right to be "who they are", because we need all kinds of people to do all kinds of different jobs in our world. We are not to make someone feel poorly about who they are, because there is a special place and a reason for them to be in our lives.
3) It is OKAY not to love everyone around you. You know what, we can't all agree all the time, and we will have different opinions. This is actually OKAY. HOWEVER... it is how we react in the moment towards that person that matters. If you do not love someone, you still need to be respectful. Then, you may go about your life without them in it later on. You have to get through the moment so that the other person never realizes you don't absolutely love them. Then, let them live their separate life from yours however they see fit. You don't have to LOVE everyone, but you cannot be disrespectful of them because this is a big earth and you can simply be separate later on. You can achieve this while still being nice in the moment.
This is a lesson teenagers do not understand. They are in their own bubble, and they cannot leave their peers alone... let's start to remind them, they do not have to be in those peers' lives forever... they will form their own groups, own families, in their own locations. For now, they just have to get through high school and then they can explore the much bigger, wider world beyond it.
If we fake it, and teach kids that "you must like everyone", we are actually not helping the problem. This is when kids are much more sneaky, when they cyber-bully and write mean notes. Let's just be HONEST... No, they will NOT like EVERYONE they meet. OF COURSE NOT. BUT, it is how they treat them in the moment that will matter most. It is still about letting that other person live a normal, happy life regardless of if you personally love who they are. It is just about leaving others alone. You don't have to become their best friend and call them every day, but you are not allowed to outcast them in a harmful way either. There is something called "tact", and I believe we should be teaching "tactfulness" to children -- it will help them immensely as adults. If Amanda had of been left alone when she went so far as to CHANGE SCHOOLS multiple times, then her past may have been forgotten. Those teens in her life should have learned how to just let her be -- let's unfriend some people on Facebook! Let's stop having so many random people from our past be a part of our life now, especially harmful or rude people.
4) People make mistakes and those mistakes should be allowed to be forgotten. Even if you dislike what the person did, even if you want to gossip about it, it was a mistake by that person. Mistakes happen all the time, and each and every one of us will do something embarrassing or silly at some point in our lives. No one is immune to a mistake. A mistake should be able to be learned from, and then there should be the opportunity for it to disappear. Unfortunately, the Internet is storing all of these mistakes. These are now following people, tormenting people, and no one can escape their past. What a strong message to teach pre-teens and children about the use of Facebook -- your past will follow you EVERYWHERE, LIFE-LONG. We need to teach our children that they are not perfect little flowers. We are doing our children a disservice if we make them believe they are immune to making embarrassing mistakes themselves. We need to teach EMPATHY, and that they could have just as poor an experience as someone else, and how would they feel if they were never allowed to forget their mistakes?!
We also need to all remember that things that children and pre-teens do are all learning experiences. They are experiments with growing up, with how life works, with what rules and responsibilities they have out there. If a 12-year-old is allowed to be on the Internet unsupervised, they just might do what Amanda did. I bet there are thousands of pre-teens around the globe experimenting online this way. Truthfully? They are not yet at a mental capacity to think that those choices at age 12 will follow them through their lives. We need to start the conversation VERY YOUNG about how the Internet works, to try to build this capacity.
Let's get started immediately. First, teaching compassion and to just leave others alone sometimes, and secondly, about the power and harm of the Internet and social media. Let's model appropriate behaviour, build empathy, and teach our kids that no one is perfect so WHY do they think they have the right to treat someone else so poorly?! Let's build a global community based on the simple foundation of mutual respect.
I fully believe these lessons, and regret that at age eleven I laughed when my peers laughed at that boy. I'm trying to right the mistake I made as a child, by helping others to hopefully NOT join in like I did... to realize the error of their ways. It will start with the adults, the teachers, the parents -- kids and teens are not yet thinking about their actions on a global level, they are not at the mental capacity yet, we need to build that capacity. Please do your part to help.