Dear Teen Mary,
Yeah, it’s me again, coming at you from the future. I bet you thought you’d heard the last of me when I embarrassed you by publishing our last letter in the Dear Teen Me Anthology. You were wrong (even though that prior letter pointed out how right you are). Ha!
This time, I’m not going to talk about you—or me, for that matter, I want to talk about someone you will love deeply. And believe it or not, it’s not that hot guy you’re dating. I’m talking about your son.
Now wait… I know you. Right now, at seventeen years old, you’re freaking out shouting about how you’ll never have kids. NEVER. Well, shut up and listen. You’re wrong (See? That’s twice I’ve contradicted my first letter to you). You will have kids—three, in fact—and you’ll love it, so stop panicking and listen…
A year after your first baby, you’ll have twins. A boy and a girl. The girl will be spunky and opinionated, like you. The boy will be different. Very different—which is what I want to talk to you about.
Right now, you live in a world with no internet. A world where kids take on differences face-to-face (and sometimes literally in the face). Well, it’s different in your future. Your son is seventeen right now, and is the victim of terrible bullying. And the saddest part, is there is very little you can do to prevent it because it’s not something teachers, or adults, or even his peers can witness.
Being a teen right now is both fantastic and horrible. The opportunities are endless, with the world being connected and available at teen’s fingertips. Bullies don’t have to be bigger and stronger than the people they pick on anymore. In fact, they don’t even have to know the victim. All it takes is a phone or a computer, and far worse damage than a bruise or bloody nose is just a few clicks away.
You know that saying your mom always repeats? “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Well, that’s B.S. Words hurt. They can even kill. Cyberbullying is rampant in your future and almost unstoppable. Kids doing it don’t even know that’s what they are doing many times. With the degree of separation afforded by online interaction, bullying has become impersonal and trivialized… unless you’re the victim. Then it’s very personal.
Your son has a disorder that causes him to be less socially savvy. He has difficulty reading social cues and sarcasm. In your time, the bigger boys would have found him an easy target. Nowadays, everyone finds him an easy target. He’s been bullied online by boys, girls, even adults.
You were never bullied, so this will all be new to you. What I want you to carry forward is that you cannot fix the bullies (don’t stop trying, though). What you can affect is your son’s ability to cope with the abuse. Don’t take the Internet away from him, though that will be your easiest path. He loves interaction with online friends and he needs it. Instead, be there for him, just like you are for your friends now.
Be an advocate for those with differences. Try to make others understand and appreciate people who are different. Shine a light on the horrific problem of cyberbullying. You’ll have a platform to do this—as a teacher, as an author, and yes (much to your teen horror), even as a parent.
In the studies I’ve read, cyberbullying is rarely reported to parents or teachers as opposed to physical bullying, which has a much higher report ratio. According to these same studies, a low percentage of parents are even aware this level of bullying goes on, while most kids claim they have been bullied or have bullied themselves.
Do something. Be proactive. Even though you have never been the victim of bullying yourself, at seventeen you often find yourself fighting for the underdog. Keep at it, because when your son is your age, you are in for the fight of your life. But you’re up to the task—and so is he.
Your not-so-teen self
I pledge take a stand against bullying each and every day. #OneVoice
~ Mary Lindsey, author of Shattered Souls
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