I will never forget the day I realized, way back in junior high,
that my friends had created what would today be called a “burn book.” It was
filled with pages and pages of gossip and nastiness directed towards other
girls in our class. Some of it was directed towards me.
One of the girls I had been friends with for years handed it to
me on that day with a smile, telling me it was my turn to write in its pages.
The only rule was that anything I saw had to remain strictly private. I wasn’t
even allowed to sign my name to my own entry.
So when I read the words written about me, I had no idea who had
written them. I had my suspicions, and I even half thought the book had been
given to me with the intention of my seeing those entries. But what could I do
about it? Rally against my friends? Stand up for myself? Walk away from them and
forge my own path?
I was in junior high. I completely lacked the confidence and
self-awareness to do any of that. So instead, I took my turn writing in the burn book, appropriately
burning the person I was sure had been responsible for burning me. And so it went.
Kids are mean. They’ve always been mean. But lately I’m starting
to think that technology is making them even meaner.
I recently happened upon a trash-talking Twitter account. It was anonymous and all the tweets were supposedly user submitted—you send a direct message to the account and they share your gossip with the world. Apparently this is a thing now. There are “Smack High” accounts for nearly every state and region. Most of those tend to call out schools rather than individuals. For example, a recent post on @SMACKHighAZ said “Apache Junction High School, where the girls are faker than the food at McDonalds.” But there are also far crueler accounts that have no problem tearing individuals apart and identifying kids by their Twitter handles.
I fear how much worse it will get by the time she actually reaches those tween and teenage years.
The scary thing is how many kids are following these pages. Not
just following them, but submitting to them, sharing them and retweeting post
I have to admit that in raising a little girl, it terrifies me.
Somewhere around my senior year in high school I realized how completely awful
my “friends” treated each other and I really did start to pull away. I spent
most of that last semester on my own, counting down the days until graduation
and choosing my friends much more carefully after that point.
But it took me years to get there. Years to realize I was better
than the meanness purely for the point of being mean. How do I convince my
daughter to find that strength so much sooner than I ever did? And how do I
teach her to rise above the cattiness of teenage girls, especially? Particularly when that cattiness is occurring on the Internet
for all to see, and kids are participating in social media at younger and younger ages?
I fear how much worse it will get by the time she actually
reaches those tween and teenage years. Internet bullying is already far too out of hand,
and it only seems to be getting worse.
So what do you do if one day it is your own child’s name
splashed across one of those pages? How do you react and how do you help him or
her to cope with something like that?
I will never forget the tears that sprang to my eyes the day I
read about myself in that burn book. And I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if those words
had been immortalized online for all to see.