I was recently asked to write a guest blog directed towards teen girls and related to issues of harassment and bullying online and offline…and so I wanted to share it with our readers. It has a very conversational tone, and reflects what I want to convey to this population as they navigate the difficult waters of adolescence. I would love to hear your thoughts!
Even though I’m a guy, I’ve been asked to write a guest blog about teen girls and some of the nonsense they have to deal with – both offline and online. I appreciate this opportunity; I speak to tens of thousands of youth in schools each year about some of the social and relational stuff that affects them. We call it different names, and each of these words means different things to different people. I don’t love the word “bullying” because youth don’t really use this word as often as adults. But it could be that. It could be really obvious, like someone coming up to you at school and knocking your books to the floor, or shoving you into a locker, or just getting in your face and screaming at you…but we find that girls have to deal with stuff that is a lot more subtle.
For example, we see and have to deal with a lot of drama…just ridiculous things that come up – whether it is gossip, or sexual rumors, or simple sarcastic comments that actually hurt. Like talking behind your back. Or not including you on a Facebook Event invite. Or excluding you in other ways and just making you feel not welcome, and like you don’t belong. Unfortunately, people say things without thinking, and spread stuff that isn’t true, or that only paints a partial or one-sided picture of a situation. And people can text or post comments or pictures online about you that shouldn’t be posted. People can just hate on you for no reason…except that maybe they are struggling with their own problems, or dealing with their own insecurities and issues and they simply don’t know how else to cope, except to be a jerk to someone else.
It’s messed up. But it happens daily. And maybe you think to yourself, I can’t let this bother me. I gotta shrug it off. Haters gonna hate. Their opinion of me shouldn’t matter. But honestly, what is our reality? Our reality is that is *does* matter. It just does.
We want people to like us. We do. We want to feel like we belong, we want to feel like others want to get to know us, want to hang out with us, want to date us. I mean, growing up we are already so insanely aware of our own flaws and imperfections – whether it is the shape of our nose, or our skin complexion, or our body type, or our hair, or our family situation, or what we can afford. And we are super hard on ourselves as it is – and have such a difficult time finding anything valuable and beautiful about who we are, and who we are becoming. The last thing we need is for others to point out our flaws, and broadcast them to the rest of the student body. The last thing we need is others possibly thinking the worst of us, because we already have such a hard time believing the best about ourselves. It’s just rough. I think you can understand, because I feel like we’ve all been there at some point or another. And as much as we want to push it into a corner of our mind so it doesn’t affect us as much, the hurt sometimes seems to take over our world. I know sometimes I felt like I just never wanted to go back to school again…never show my face again…never get back online again.
The thing is, we have to try – over the course of years and years – to get to a point where our identity isn’t completely wrapped up in how others perceive us. And this is so hard. Most adults haven’t gotten to a good place with this yet. But we know our own feelings and emotions and opinions – we can’t fully trust them. They change all the time. That’s how it is for everybody. And if our identity – who we know we are – is constantly dependent on what other people are saying about us, it is going to be a really rough life. You won’t ever fully “own” who you are. You’ll be at the mercy of catering to the thoughts and feelings and opinions and pressures and demands of others. And this is an awful way to live.
You have got to get your identity from something stable. Something unchanging. Something that can tell you who you are, where you can believe it and be forever sure about it. And then, when you can get that into your heart, fully and truly, you can live your life out of it. And then life honestly becomes so much better.
And when you see the hate or drama happening to others, when you see girls being mean to each other in the lunchroom, or hallway, or on Instagram, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or Facebook, or via Group MMS…how do you deal with it? I know we are hesitant to do anything, and say to ourselves we should mind our own business and stay out of it. Or we hold back because we don’t want to be the next person harassed. Or we don’t want to be known as a rat or narc. And sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to do. The thing is, we know deep down what is wrong and what is right. We know we wouldn’t want to be treated a certain way, but sometimes we let it happen to those around us. And we shrug it off. But you hear the stories about those who are targeted and mistreated. Some of them feel there is no other escape other than taking their own life. Others wrestle with serious psychological and emotional problems because of it. Still others try to cope by harming others, or harming themselves (cutting). It’s kind of a big deal. I think you get that.
Bottom line, we have to step up. I know we’re nervous, or scared, or hesitant for a million reasons. But we have to push through that. So many stay silent and just let the hate continue. But if you want people to be drawn to you, if you want to be popular for the right reasons, do something that sets you apart. Don’t stay silent. Intervene at that moment, despite your hesitation. Or go talk to someone who can help (like an adult you trust) afterward. If it’s happening online, formally report it as “abuse” to the site or social network, and help the person to use the privacy settings or blocks or filters to control who is able to message them or post to their profiles.
Most of the time, teens who are targeted feel paralyzed, and feel like they don’t have a voice. You can be that voice. I know when I was being mistreated growing up, I would have *loved* for someone to step up for me. And if you’ve had to deal with drama, or bullying, or threats, or anything like that, I’m sure it would have made things easier for you if someone would have done something. Even as little as being an encouragement to you and showing love to you. Even that matters…the smallest things can make a huge difference. And intervening on someone’s behalf shows that you truly care for them. We all need that sometimes – probably more than sometimes. This can be invaluable in helping overcome the pain that was caused.
The first time you step up will be the hardest. Kind of like anything we try to tackle in life. Anything worth doing is going to be difficult. You know how it is. But I hope you take that chance to do the right thing. And start to build a habit of it. And in time, people will take notice. And you’ll have set an example, and you’ll have held to a standard. And in time, people will be drawn to you because you’re not like everyone else. This is how people differentiate themselves from everyone else, from the masses. And have amazing lives – lives that rise above all of the stuff that wants to hold us down.