Twitter-gate: A Lesson in Bullying, Part 1

Stories

First a word about bullying and my own personal bias before I tell you about Twitter-gate.  Being the victim of a bully can be among the most painful, horrific experiences children endure – I know because I was bullied mercilessly.

In the 7th grade, I had study hall in the cafeteria at my school, where kids were assigned to seats at long, cafeteria-style tables. My assigned seat was on one side of a table, alone, with 2 boys of the same age on the other side…all 3 of us far away from the safety of any adult who might have intervened.  Every day for as long as my memory permits, those 2 boys made my life a living hell.  I’m sure they got really creative in their insults, and I remember the torment being relentless in general – but telling me how ugly I was are the only specific comments I have tangible memories of.

He who said, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me” was a special kind of stupid.  The targeted, intentional rejection, contempt and vitriol from peers at such a tender age is very hurtful and leaves lasting scars.  Those experiences happened 28 years ago and still something I struggle with from time to time.

The point of going into all that is to own my bias when it comes to the topic of bullying in general.  My children have always known the very worst offense to be accused of in our family is bullying – it carries the most grave consequences and greatest potential for disappointment.  It would be better to come home with F’s on a report card than for school to call home and report one of my kids was bullying.  They know they could almost set fire to the school-house and be in less trouble than if I got that call.  My bias drives me to over-identify with a victim and to view a perpetrator much more harshly than someone else and I’m quite aware of all of this.

Twitter-gate

Recently, my daughter and several of her peers found themselves in a bit of  a social predicament I affectionately refer to as Twitter-gate.  In the Reader’s Digest condensed version, a friend of my daughter’s (let’s call him Pat) posted 3 tweets about a fellow student (let’s go with Anna) that were not complimentary.  My daughter favorite-d and re-tweeted all 3 posts.

I supposed the condensed version isn’t overly helpful without some pertinent background.  It wouldn’t be unfair of me if I said Anna is viewed by many of her peers as a royal pain in the ass – and there’s nothing unfactual about this assessment.  She and her mom have earned for themselves reputations of being stereotypical goody-goody, brown-nosing, intrusive, helicopter-hovering, know-it-alls.  Certainly for every person who characterize Anna and her mom in this negative light, there are at least as many people who find them to be perfectly wonderful creatures (how’s that for balanced journalism?).

But let’s avoid rumor or stereotypes for a moment.  I’ll share two stories I have involving direct, first-hand interaction with Anna and her mom.  The first happened at band camp 2 years ago, where I did hard time as chaperone and camp mom. When I say I did hard time, I mean I filled and carried 10 gallon coolers of water dozens of time each day, dried tears, lanced blisters and bandaged all sorts of miscellaneous boo-boos, ate terrible camp food, slept on an old stinky mattress in a room with mildew in the walls, and literally made hundreds of trips schlepping kids back and forth from the field to the bathroom in my van…along with the handful of other moms who took a week off work and the rest of their lives to volunteer for the job no one else wanted.  Like everyone at camp can attest to, days are long, hot, exhausting and would have tried the patience of Mother Teresa.

Apparently, Anna has bad knees.  Speaking of bias, kids with bad knees don’t even usually register on my radar, and if you saw the scar on my right knee from 3 surgeries, one of which was a replacement, you would know why.  Most kids know better than to even try to talk to me about knee troubles.  But, apparently, my good friend and fellow band-mom-trapped-in-teenager-hell-for-a-week was uncooperative about giving Anna a ride back to camp one day after rehearsal.  Apparently, my good friend and fellow band-mom-trapped-in-teenager-hell-for-a-week told Anna that she was only giving rides to kids who were injured.   In Anna’s mind (and her mom’s, as we would soon find out), two ACE bandages on her knees is evidence enough of injury that absolutely justified a ride to camp, but in defense of my good friend and fellow band-mom-trapped-in-teenager-hell-for-a-week, “bad knees” that require the constant use of ACE bandages at band camp isn’t quite the same thing as an acute injury…and for really though, at the end of the day probably couldn’t think of anything else besides not committing homicide and getting a shower and a glass of our special “mom juice”….or that’s entirely a projection of what I would have been thinking.

The day the bus pulled in the school lot returning from camp, Anna’s mom was waiting with guns loaded for my good friend and fellow band-mom-trapped-in-teenager-hell-for-a-week and I happened to be standing right there.  How dare WE (I’m guilty by virtue of being there and owning a vehicle, it would seem) not give Anna a ride…yadda, yadda.  I swear if she would have just let us get away from those damn kids for 15 minutes before coming at us with that noise…

And my other significant, direct interaction with Anna – also band related, this past season – is a doozy.  I was bent over getting something out of my purse near the table where volunteers put out snacks for kids after they perform on competition days. Imagine this scenario:  120 hungry teenagers charging a table piled high with food, after rehearsing all day and post-competition adrenaline and hormone spike.  In my mind, it’s an awful lot like the running of the bulls.

So I’m bent over, and sort of underneath, THE table getting something out of my purse, and I have no idea they are coming – although I should have felt the thunderous vibrations of their approach.  Anna was leading the charge, coincidentally…and to be fair, she probably didn’t see me crouched there…but still plowed into me so hard, with the velocity of the entire marching band it felt like, and sent me (literally) flying…landing at least 5 feet away, and square on my ass.

Bewildered and stunned, I looked up to see that Anna is not mortified or concerned, not offering assistance…but laughing at me.  And I didn’t make that up.  My daughter found me a few minutes later and said to me, “I just got a text from XXX, she said Anna knocked you down, didn’t help you up, and walked away laughing about it.”

OK, so fast forward to a few weeks ago – AP English Comp, brand spanking new teacher, fresh out of college and full of youthful vigor and enthusiasm.  I don’t even know her name, let’s call her Ms. AP Comp.  Ms. AP Comp has devised a game the kids have been playing the entire school year modeled after The Apprentice.  I don’t know all the details, but the gist is that kids have to work together in teams and Ms. AP Comp fires them periodically for various infractions.

Rumor has it, Anna got fired and was none too happy about it.  Rumor also has it that Anna’s mom complained to the administration at school and Ms. AP Comp was instructed to discontinue the game.  The only verifiable information in this scenario is that the game was in fact discontinued, but I still think the perception that Anna caused the cessation of the game is relevant.

Rumor also has it that Pat took to Twitter with his frustration.  Tweet #1 said something along the lines of “I liked The Apprentice, it taught us about teamwork and leadership – skills some people need to work on”.  Tweet #2 was something along the lines of “what are you doing to do next year, take your mom to college with you?” and Tweet #3 isn’t really worth repeating –  a more snarky version of Tweet #2.

Rumor also has it that Anna was none too happy about Pat’s Tweets.  According to urban legend, she took a screenshot of the offending Tweets, including every user that favorite-d and re-tweeted any of the three, my daughter included, and marched into the Principal’s office, mom in tow and ready to open a can of whup-ass on all of those pesky teenagers.  Or more specifically, to formally charge all parties with the crime of bullying.

The day Twitter-gate broke open, my daughter came home and told me the saga.  She would have told me anyway, but she also knew she had to warn me because I would be getting a phone call from school reporting her bullying behavior.  Wait, her what? Being the fair, balanced-minded, non-helicopter mom that I like to think I am, I demanded to see the actual Tweets. Let’s get away from rumor and hearsay and get straight to the horse’s mouth, right?  Wrong.  “They made him [Pat] delete them” is what my girl says to me.  No, silly rabbit…I don’t know who the “they” is in this scenario, but unless the “they” is Pat’s own mamma, “they” can’t make him do squat.

Problem is, Pat’s mamma wasn’t there to defend him – the administration didn’t contact her until much later.  Regardless of what the administration at a public high school can and can’t technically and legally do, what it appears by all accounts that they can do is bring a young man into a room filled with adults and a school resource officer (a regular, uniformed police officer), and tell him he needs to delete the Tweets in question.  They can intimidate him sufficiently into compliance with their very authoritative presence and buzzwords like “bully” and “suspension.”  Holy abuse of power, Batman!

Being very transparent early on regarding my own bias related to bullying, I’m going on record telling you what I told my daughter that day, which is this:  if she had been the original poster, the “they” that is her mamma, would have eaten her for breakfast for the second two Tweets.  The second two Tweets were snarky, unconstructive, and by definition, mean-spirited. Those two Tweets would have come down and she would have either issued an apology or stayed off social media until she could figure out how to express herself without someone else paying a price – maybe both.

But that first one?  That one can stay.  That one is different in its nature and tone by virtue of its language, and that one has nothing to do with bullying. That one is expressing an opinion, discontent, dissent and protestation.  All of that is allowed in real life.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Twitter-gate saga…

 

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