Authors Against Bullying

Kids today have got it tough.

By now, you've probably heard the sad story of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide just 8 days ago after being targeted by a cabal of online bullies.

Amanda's story is heartbreaking, but hardly unique. Do a Google search on 'teen suicide online bullying.' Name after name pops up. Jared High. Rachel Ehmke. The list of kids goes on and on.

And kids they were. 15. 16. 14. Just kids, who should have been worried about acne and awkwardness, not  how best to end their lives.

I'm writing this blog along with a number of other authors at the behest of author Mandy M. Roth, who was also deeply touched by the suicide of Amanda Todd. You can see Mandy's blog here,along with links to all the other bloggers writing about bullying today.

I was never bullied as a kid. Keep in mind, I grew up in an era so different from this one I might as well have grown up on Mars. We had no social media. The Internet was decades away. No email. No smart phones. No texting.

All of our communication was done face-to-face, or on clunky wall-mounted telephones incapable of transmitting photos.

Bullies, in that day, had no choice but to face their victims directly. Which rendered the act of bullying a far more risk-inherent activity than it is today. The possibility of a fist in the face was quite real, as were the consequences of initiating a bullying campaign.

I had friends in all the social strata. Jocks. Nerds. Hot girls. Plain kids. I can't recall ever being in fear of any one person or group of persons; had a hand been raised against me, half a dozen classmates would have appeared in my defense. And I would have done the same for them.

I just realized something -- I grew up in Mayberry.

But Mayberry is gone. Today, from what I've seen and heard, kids live half or more of their social lives in some sort of odd rolling cybernetic mishmash of Facebook and text messages and instantly shared videos.

Which is what seems to be the environment that killed Amanda Todd.

It killed the others, too. These kids found themselves the targets of a violent, tireless mob of vicious online tormenters. Poor kids -- their every moment was scrutinized and attacked. Their appearance, their actions, their every glance and word was mocked, endlessly and without mercy.

No fifteen year old is emotionally suited to enduring prolonged exposure to that dosage of social venom.

Sure, if you need your wifi router unlocked or your email client fixed, grabbing a teenager is a smart move. They know computers.

But teenagers are still just kids. They haven't had time to grow the kind of rhinoceros hide that allows a frowning bull ape like me to respond to insult with a profound and vast indifference.  No. That takes years to learn, and years to master.

A 15 year old kid might as well be tossed into a meat grinder. They aren't coming out uninjured. They might not come out alive.

I grieve for any kid out there who is surrounded by a hateful jeering mob every hour of every day. If I wish I could bestow upon the kid just a small portion of my impenetrable middle-aged ego, which has been rendered indestructible by 48 years of coffee-fueled cynicism. My God, I'd send the jeering mobs fleeing, probably right into the arms of the nearest available therapist.

But I can't do that. I don't know who these kids are. Sadly, some of their own parents don't understand what their kids are going through. "My daughter is just playing on the computer again," I imagine some have said. "She's always online with her friends."

I'm not blaming the parents here, either. Maybe they were neighbors of mine in quaint, scenic little Mayberry,  where the worst kind of monkeyshines the young 'uns got up to was tipping apple-carts or playing in fresh mud.

But as I said, this isn't Mayberry, and the online world appears to be Mayberry's polar opposite in nearly every respect.

If you're a kid, and you're reading this, and you're being bullied, please let me give you a few words of Genuine Old Man (tm) advice.

People only have the power that you yourself give them.

Read it a couple of times. Let it sink in. I promise you -- I swear to you -- it's true.

There is no force in the Universe more awesome than one man or one woman's refusal to dance to music being forced upon you.

Look, kid, you're young. I know everything that happens right now feels deeply and unrelentingly profound. Your emotions are being yanked around. You don't know why you're here, what you're supposed to be doing here, and frankly you don't want to be here at all.

I get that. But hear me out -- give it time. Give it time, and one day in the not-so-distant future you'll realize that nothing those ignorant yammering bullies said meant anything. They're just, pardon the mild profanity, buttholes.

Do what myself and a host of other kids did when we found the world intolerable.

Leave it. No, not THAT way. I mean walk away from the mob, figuratively and literally. Get off the freaking net for a while. Lose yourself in books and music. Learn to play a guitar. Sit in the dark and write bad poetry. Take your power back. Do something.

Do whatever makes YOU happy.

Let the mob rail, if they wish. Fall silent to their taunts long enough, and they'll move on to more amusing targets. Because that's all you are to them -- a target. Something they can poke with a stick, just so they can watch it squirm.

So you really care what people like that say about you? Think about you?

I don't. They are, as I'm fond of saying, persons unworthy of consideration.

Maybe you're shaking your head at my unbelievable naivety. That's fine, maybe I'm utterly and entirely wrong in everything I've said.

But so were the kids who reasoned their dilemmas out and arrived at the conclusion that suicide was the only way out.

If only they'd held on. Told a parent. Logged off the net and stayed off for a month. Thrown their phone away. Run off and joined the circus, I don't know -- anything but a bullet, or a rope.

By comparison, does becoming a devoted Tolkien geek really look so bad?

If you are being bullied, I can guarantee you this -- somebody out there cares for you. If it's becoming too much and you just cannot handle even one more minute of it, talk to someone. I'll post toll-free phone numbers at the end of this blog. Yeah, you'll be talking to a stranger if you go that route. But they're manning the phones because they care. Because they've been there. Because they muddled through, somehow, and now they want to help someone do the same.

There are people who will listen, who will understand. Give them a try.