Last week, a dear friend of mine emailed me a link to Facebook "hate group," created about her son. After getting over the initial shock which included my heart breaking into roughly a thousand pieces, several thoughts ran through my head:
"Who are these kids?"
"Why would they do such a thing?"
"Do their parents know?"
"Why weren't more kids posting comments that this was wrong?"
"Who do I know at Facebook (which is headquartered five minutes from my house)?"
"How do I get this taken down?"
I knew my friend was very upset, but strangely, the person I knew who would emerge from this "okay" was her son. Of course, I felt protective of him, but he's just in a different world from people like that. Did I want to throttle those kids? Yes. Would I feel like an absolute failure as a parent if I knew my kids ever did something like that? HELL yes. But their intended target is one of the most sweet, brilliant, and together kids I know. If anyone could come out of this looking at the bigger picture, I knew it was this amazing boy. The person I was most concerned for, one mother to another, was my friend.
Our own glimpse into junior high would come a few days after this incident. Bunny came home from school and told me that a girl in her grade (not in her class) told a girl in her class to tell Bunny that her fingers were "fat." This is an insult that Bunny didn't quite understand because she doesn't associate body-size with anything "bad," (something we've worked hard at teaching), but she knew from the way her friend whispered it to her that is was something not exactly good.
After my first initial reaction of "What the fuck?" and "I''m going to be that kid's worst nightmare." I took a few steps back. Was it true? No. Bunny is a healthy, normal (exceptionally sweet, funny, smart and beautiful :-) ) 6-year-old. But still, Bunny kept looking at her fingers, turning her hand over and over, saying, "They might be fat, but that's just how I was born." Again, not true, but she is also one of the tallest girls in the class and the person saying it is on the smaller side so...Not trying to excuse the behavior, but I have to believe that these kids are just 6 and not Mean Girls-in-Training. Let's hope, anyway. We talked about why people say these things, that she was perfect in my eyes, and that people come in all shapes in sizes (some plus-sized like her mama) but that it was what was on the inside that mattered. We talk a lot about respecting the dignity and self-worth of every person and it's one of the principles by which we live our lives. She understood, but in light of what my friend was dealing with, I shuddered to think about what lay ahead.
Back to the Facebook group. I didn't even want to look at it so I passed my laptop over to J. who was sitting next to me. As he read the comments, I saw his mouth press into a firmer and firmer line. I knew he was pissed. But then we noticed something. Something these kids probably didn't think about:
I had one mutual friend in common with MANY of those kids.
How could this be? I clicked on one of the names and saw that one of those misguided kids was "Facebook friends" with one of our babysitters. If I wanted to find out anything about these kids including where they were applying to college, what they did in their spare time, or if there parents even knew about what they were doing, all I had to do was ask her.
When our babysitters (both) asked me to friend them on Facebook I said yes immediately. I felt honored that they trusted me enough and were secure in themselves enough to give me a peek into their "real" lives. Plus, it's a lot easier to coordinate babysitting plans on Facebook since they usually respond right away. These are great kids and I admit that I do allow them privacy by not looking too deeply at their profiles. I peek when they link to photos that show up on my "wall," but that's about it. I view it as good practice for me when I become a parent of teens. If I saw something that was concerning, we'd talk about it, but so far, so good. When I told one of them about the group, she was appalled as I knew she would be.
Teens may not know this, but one of the fastest-growing groups on Facebook are not teens or college kids, it's people over the age of 30 who are using it to connect with high school buddies, for networking, or as a marketing tool. And one of the most tech-savvy group of users on the internet are moms. Teens who want to start a Facebook hate group about someone in their community should remember that there may only be one degree of separation between them and the parents of their intended target.
And what about these parents? Turns out that we're not so clueless after all. We had the group removed, but before we did, we took screen shots, passed that hate group around, and we all know the names of all the kids involved. The group may be erased from Facebook, but it hasn't been erased from our memories (or our laptops). Teens need to understand this before they make poor choices.
We parents (that those teens think are clueless) are your public safety officers, your elected officials, your church group leaders, your grocery store owners where you like to buy your favorite snacks. We are your college admissions officers, we are your doctors, we designed the browsers and apps on your mobile phones, heck, we even designed the phones. We write your favorite books, animate your favorite movies, we may even work for Facebook. We are your community and we talk to each other because we are also parents who are trying to raise loving-hearted, open-minded kids who will stand up to injustice. We don't like cyber-bullies and we will do anything we can to stop it because we care about all the kids in our community.
We will even blog about it if that's what it takes.