I’m a straddler.
The kids and I first used this term to describe people who drove on the highway with half their vehicle in one lane and the other half in another lane.
Lately, I find myself being a straddler when it comes to social networks created by technology (not social networks where people meet face to face: writing groups, community groups, Girls & Boys Clubs, etc.). When used for good, technology-created social networks rate somewhere between mediocre and great.
When used for evil, technology-created social networks are destructive and can kill.
Am I over-exaggerating? Some might say I am, but with three deaths in three months in the small province of Nova Scotia blamed on cyber-bullying, I don’t feel I am over-exaggerating.
In early March, I heard the tragic news about a friend’s niece, only fourteen, who had committed suicide. Why? Because of comments continually made about her on Facebook. Just last week, another girl decided it was easier to end it all instead of facing the bullies who taunted her through social networks. Again, I have to ask: Why? Because someone didn’t realise that names and negative comments can cause death.
My heart goes out to these girls and the one earlier this year who decided the only way out was to take the life her mother had given her. Why? Because I clearly remember what it was like to be an awkward teenager. I also remember one cruel . . . yet innocent . . . comment on an otherwise perfect day made by a friend or someone I knew could make me so self-conscious that I’d try to fix that flaw that had been pointed out. Many of the comments made to me are now thirty years old . . . but I remember them still.
Why? Because teenagers are more vulnerable to criticism. Negative comments cut deep, leave scars that withstand the passage of time.
The benefit of being a teenager in the 1980s is that there were no social networks created by technology. When standing around with six friends and if one person made a stupid comment, only those four other friends heard. Maybe one or two of them might tell someone else, but for the most part, the comment froze right there, to be remembered by only the person who received it.
Jump to today and when a comment is made on Facebook about someone else, all 536 friends see it, too. It spreads like wildfire and lingers for days. One cruel comment can echo for weeks, digging deeper into the skin of the innocent victim until the scar will never heal.
And part of me is terrified. Why? Because my three kids are just entering their teenaged years, and I’ve already witnessed stupid, yet innocent comments made on their Facebook pages by so-called friends. Kids today click send without a single thought about how their words might affect someone else.
But I’m different. Or at least I seem to be different than many parents today. I spend a lot of time with my kids. I know where they are and who they’re with. I know their friends. I visit their Facebook pages, and they know it. If someone makes a stupid comment, I tell them how I feel about it, ask them how they feel about it and we discuss what should be done about it.
Why? Because I don’t want to come home some day and find that one of my children decided that taking the life that I gave them was better than dealing with the bullies on-line. They need to know I’m on their side, and that I would fight any evil force threatening to cause them harm.
No, I’m not a super mom, just someone who cares deeply for her kids. And they need to know that I’d go to any length to help them.
So although many have embraced Facebook, Twitter and other social networks created by technology, I wish they’d just run their course and be done with it. Then – just maybe – our kids won’t be so connected with the negative people in their lives.