October 13, 2012 by readlisaread
Amanda Todd. Amanda Todd‘s Facebook Tribute. I didn’t know her. But I know girls just like her, and I know her story. I read or hear about stories like Amanda Todd’s fairly frequently. Too frequently. And I get angry. Really freaking angry. But before I let you jump to conclusions about the source of my anger, let me define it for you.
I am mad at Amanda Todd, as much as anyone else. I’m mad at her, and girls like her, who buy in to this insidious culture of what it means to be beautiful, what is required to be popular. For ceasing to become the beautiful and complete person she could have become, the difference she could have made. She started to channel her pain into advice and outreach, but it proved to be too little too late, and now she is gone. In case you don’t know the story, here it is in a nutshell: Pretty grade 8 girl poses in front of a webcam. Pictures are captured. A few years later those topless pictures are still haunting her, and being used as weapons to torment her. She changes schools, the bullying follows her, and is offline, online and physical. She gives up.
Here is another thing that makes me angry. Let’s stop referring to “Cyber Bullying!” I know it sounds all new age and techy and what the “digital natives” (another term I despise) are up to, but let’s call it what it really is. Bullying. Plain, old fashioned Bullying. Where someone who feels bad about themselves tries to make someone else feel worse.
We can blame parents for not raising children with the self esteem and good graces required to be a decent human being. We can blame TV and the media for sexualizing everything and encouraging children to grow up too fast. We can blame schools for tolerating the intolerable, hell, we can even blame the victims for allowing themselves to be victimized.
But here are the real goods. Kids are mean to each other. They look for weakness in others and ways to manipulate that. Are all kids mean? No, of course not. Do all kids bully? Well….I don’t think all kids bully with the intent of doing harm, but I think most of them try it out at least a little– because it feels like power to them, and somehow, in their young lives, they need to find ways to exert power over their environment. Eventually, most bullying reduces as adulthood approaches, although some people never do learn how wield their own power without being a bully. And, most kids want to grow up to be good people, and in the main our Western culture is one of decent moral standards.
But what a lot of adults forget is how BIG things are when you are a teenager. The world is a big, scary place (but teenagers think they are bigger and scarier–that’s why THEY will never have a car accident/break their leg skiing/drink too much/make bad choices–don’t you remember the fearlessness…. the immortality of youth?). No adult falls in love like a teenager. And break ups? Nothing is more painful. How about friendships? Teenagers aren’t just friends, they are BFFs, besties, twins, friends for life. Kids bond with their peers far more deeply, for a time, then they do with their family. Everything, not just their music, is amplified. Especially Darkness.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t actually think wearing pink shirts and sending loving words out on posters and in videos will help much, but it sure won’t hurt. Trying to do damage control is always only semi-efficient. What is needed is positive, pro-active initiatives. Better opportunities at school (smaller class sizes, more resource time, better resources); more young role models that are celebrated for wit and talent, not for a haircut or dressing like a prostitute. TV that doesn’t celebrate the culture of “Honey Boo Boo” (surely the pinnacle of irony that shows like that feature on “The Learning Channel”). More parents making their kids be accountable for their actions, rather than defending them. Kids being raised to be curious, courteous, kind and adventurous. A world where humour is not defined by someone getting nailed in the jewels. Where culture is found in places other than between toes.
We all want to say “Bullying is wrong! Punish the Bullies!”. But in reality, it’s Being a Victim that is wrong. All Amanda Todd needed to do was not take provocative pictures, not reply to requests from strangers or friends for more, to deactivate her facebook page, to shut down the computer and go back to her cheerleading squad practices. To stop listening to–and believing– the negative. Hard? Yes. Impossible? I don’t think so, but we’ll never know….. I only know it would have been so, so much better than what really happened.