Sticks and stones may break my bones, but . . . names can kill.

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.

Diane Lynn Tibert
Cyber-bullying may have some teens looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.

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.

6 thoughts on “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but . . . names can kill.

  1. This has been on the minds of many Nova Scotians lately in light of these suicides, and it is terrifying and maddening all at the same time. There have always been bullies and sadly there probably always will be. So much easier nowadays with the means that bullies have at their disposal. Too easy to hit send without giving it a second thought. Bullies no longer have to even look their victims in the eyes.

    Where’s the compassion? And why isn’t this stopping?

    • I agree, Laura. Bullies no longer have to see their victim to cause harm.

      The kids informed me today that Facebook added a new feature where people can send messages annonymously. This was how one of the girls was receiving messages. Frankly, I think the police should have the power to have that feature removed, or at least be given free access to the identity of the individuals sending hate mail.

      It is terrifying and maddening. The girls who terrorized the victims should be charged with a serious crime because they truly were accomplices to murder. Perhaps then the bullies will realise that their deeds will not go unpunished.

  2. These stories are so sad. I was also a teen in the 80s, before social networking, and am happy for that. As an adult, it’s not as impactful and not that many adults are going to publically slam each other on Facebook.

    I am encouraged by some movements out there that are anti-bully and pro body image for teens. Check out operationbeautiful.com. A friend of mine runs that program. It’s mostly about stopping the voices in teen’s heads telling themselves that they are fat or not pretty enough, but it also approaches issues like bullying. It has become very popular with teen girls in the States.

    • After the most recent death, I believe the police and/or community groups are getting together to form a task force or something. There was a blurb on the news about it. But I feel it doesn’t matter what the police or community groups do, it’s up to the adults in every child/teen’s life to know what is going on and to recognise a problem and take action before it gets out of control.

      Although some may feel we are connected with social networks, cell phones and texting, parents aren’t really connected with their kids — well, I’m sure many are, but many aren’t. They don’t know what is truly going on in their lives. In my family, if my parents didn’t know, my older siblings did. It was difficult to hide problems when I spent so much time within the family unit. If someone threatened me, one of my six older brothers would step in and threaten them. Fighting violence with violence isn’t the answer, but it isn’t totally wrong.

      Things were so much simpler in the 80s. If girls had a problem with each other, they punched, swore, slapped and then walked away. Confrontation over. The next week, they could be friends again.

      Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

  3. I cringe at what my twins will face once they get older. The horror stories are enough to make me dread them growing up. I hope I can teach them the foundation of acting responsibly so when they go out into the world they know how to behave.

    This is a GREAT post!

    Christi Corbett
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

    • Thanks, Christi.

      I keep thinking if I am a big part of my kids’ lives, they’ll be okay. I don’t smother them, but I make sure I’m around. Sometimes that’s all it takes. I know of a boy, aged 8, who comes home to an empty house. Eek! I could never do that to my child. You just never know what can happen in those few hours he’s alone. And he’s not the only one. There’s entire communities where kids are home alone until the parents get home from work.

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