Bully and bullied. . . it hurts me to think that both of those words are accurate descriptors of my young self. I have memories of the former that still sting, especially when I see or hear of a kid getting picked on. I’m ashamed of my role as the latter, a role that I started to play a little later on in my childhood as a kind of compensatory strategy and in a desperate effort to fit in. . . especially when size was suddenly on my side. All that to say, I have an inkling of experience in what it means to be both perpetrator and victim. All of it is ugly.
I got to thinking about this as I was laying in bed last night pondering the breaking news story about 12-year-old Florida girl, Rebecca Sedwick. She’s the latest victim in a growing volume of high-profile news stories about kids who get hammered by 24/7 bullying thanks to our always-present and attention-grabbing technology. Sedwick jumped off a building to her death last month after being terrorized and bullied by loads of her female peers. Now, authorities have filed felony charges against two of those girls, ages 12 and 14, for ongoing online harassment of Sedwick.
The difference between Sedwick’s story and my own is significant in the fact that 1) I had a place of refuge at home that fostered resilience when I was bullied, and 2) that I was held accountable at home if it was ever discovered that I had crossed the line and became the bully. The words of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in the video embedded below are words that really didn’t have to be uttered in a world where parental diligence was the norm.
Speaking of words, I think we can do away with the old saying that was supposed to carry kids through difficult times: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I’m not sure that this little phrase was ever accurate. I remember that words hurt. . . more than sticks and stones (which we did throw around from time to time in my old neighborhood!). Words hurt badly. You could sleep through a little bruise. Words would keep you awake. We need to watch our words, and theirs.
If anything remotely good can come out of the Rebecca Sedwick story it will be conversations with our kids about this stuff. We’ve been working hard at CPYU to create tools and conversation starters to help you deal with cyber-bullying. We’ve got some helpful free pdf downloads of some handouts on our Digital Kids Initiative site, including A Parents’ Guide To Cyberbullying and a brand new Trend Alert on Ask.fm, a social media site that’s become an online playground for teens who want to bully and beat up on others.
Today, let’s ponder – with our kids – the words of Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”