I work with a lot of amazing tweens and teens, and most of the time the good I witness more than compensates for the cruelty I also see happening among kids. But after the Phoebe Prince suicide in January 2010, I have to say, I hit a huge low. And then I found out that some of Phoebe's tormentors continued to ridicule her on Facebook after her death. That just sent me over the edge. All I could think was, "Have young people completely abandoned any sense of decency? Have they lost their minds?" What came up for me, also, as the mother of two boys only a few years younger than Phoebe, was anger at the bullies' parents. Honestly, how is it possible not to know your child is doing something that terrible? But as time passed I forced myself to remember how every day I meet moms and dads who try their best, only to learn, to their horror, that their child has knowingly and willingly participated in some form of abuse of a peer. Finger-pointing is easy—and solves nothing.
It's not that kids being mean to one another is anything new. But cell phones and social networking sites have made it impossible to escape, so harassing others is that much easier, more tempting and more extreme. And unlike adults, kids don't regard technology as separate from the rest of their lives. To them, everyday life and what happens digitally are one and the same, with a constant flow of information between the two. In my view, this total immersion means that the chance of your child being involved in bullying, as either a target, a bystander or, yes, a perpetrator, is 100%.
I know that's not what parents want to hear. But we need to stop pretending otherwise, because accepting the new reality is what will give us the strength and strategies to deal with kid cruelty.